Country musician Glen Campbell scratched his nose. Journalist Walter Cronkite played with his glasses. Actor Ernest Borgnine ripped up match covers and rolled the paper into tiny balls. Designer Achille Castiglioni constantly turned on and off a light switch—that he held in his pocket.
People deep in thought often have a compulsion to fidget. The action might thwart boredom during intense focus. And these mini mind breaks may even be necessary for people to perform their jobs well. That was the conclusion of Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihaly, who once described to me the U.N. interpreters he saw doodling in their notebooks like it was some release valve for their brains.
So it may come as no surprise that the Fidget Cube ($19)—essentially a clicky, spinny, tappy die that fits in your pocket—has had runaway success in its Kickstarter debut, raising more than $500,000 in a week. We spotted it first on Technabob.
Created by the brothers Matthew and Mark McLachlan—two self-ascribed fidgeters who previously designed the Apple Watch accessory Duet and who cede that they may be using their own invention during our email interview—the Fidget Cube features five "clicker buttons" that you can press over and over, one "gliding button" that you can point like a game pad’s analog stick, a "flip" pivot switch, a "breath" indentation that you rub like a worry stone, a "roll" set of gears you turn like the combination on your luggage, along with a ball you can roll like a 1980s arcade game, and a "spin" dial that you can circle round and round like an old telephone.
The McLachlans were inspired by their own need to fidget, but rather than treating the impulse as some character flaw that needed to be overcome, they wondered: What could they create if they embraced fidgeting as a bona fide productivity tool? "Once we had decided on the general concept of Fidget Cube, we spent time observing how people around us consciously (or subconsciously) fidgeted," the team writes. "We then each made a list of all of the different actions we’d want on something like this. We omitted things that we didn’t feel would be universally used, and ended up with the current set of components you see now."
It’s hard to imagine what’s missing (though bubble wrap certainly comes to mind). Cramming all these mechanical functions into such a small shell proved challenging. "Fitting so many moving parts into a small space (while making sure each one felt tactilely satisfying) was new territory for us, but we were determined to make it work," the team writes. "It was really important to us that Fidget Cube was small, so that it could be used in any setting without it being too obtrusive."
But could a ticking, flicking cube be obtrusive—even if it’s tiny? After all, who hasn’t been annoyed by the constant clicking of a ballpoint pen or tapping on a desk—the tiny, repetitive sounds cutting through the inch of soundproofing between a coworker’s cubicle and your own?
Indeed, that’s why the cube was designed with some silent functions—stealth mode fidgeting for meetings or other public moments in your day. "For instance, on the face that features five different buttons, we intentionally designed three of them to audibly click while the other two can be pushed down and spring back up without making any noise," the team writes. "Furthermore, there are components such as the ball-and-socket and worry stone, which are completely silent when being used. The last thing we want is drama in the workplace."
The Fidget Cube is available for preorder now for $19, and is supposed to be available by December 2016.