OK, I'll admit it.
I fidget with my hands, my wedding ring, and my hair.
I also fidget with my electronic devices. Recently I learned that one particular way in which I fidget actually has a name: "de-re-selecting," which is what Chris Noessel calls it when someone "repeatedly select[s] and deselect[s] text in web browsers as they read pages online. This is absolutely crazymaking for onlookers, but really satisfying for them."
If you don't know what I mean, de-re-selecting looks like this:
Chris Noesson thinks that interface designers (people who create the ways we interact with technology) should account for this kind of fidgeting. He says it can humanize a product, and suggests that designers should include what he calls "one free interaction" in their work:
They're "free" because they have no consequences. They affect only the interface and don't touch content. It's interactive because there is some small, quick cause and effect.
As we're trying to understand what makes them successful, there are some other important aspects to these behaviors worth noting. Most of them are "natural," in the sense that they feel more like the natural world than the computer world. [...] When these things have a natural feel they have a pleasant, emotional...humane feeling.
And perhaps, this kind of electronic fidgeting (of which Chris has several other examples) could have serious benefits. Regular fidgeting certainly does. According to 2005 research by Dr. James A. Levine at the Mayo Clinic, fidgeting may help fend off obesity:
The most detailed study ever conducted of mundane bodily movements found that obese people tend to be much less fidgety than lean people and spend at least two hours more each day just sitting still. The extra motion by lean people is enough to burn about 350 extra calories a day, which could add up to 10 to 30 pounds a year, the researchers found.
And research by Dr. Karen Pine at the University of Hertfordshire suggests that children who fidget do better in memory and learning tests:
The study examined the differences in learning when children were able to move around their hands and when they were forced to keep their hands still - by putting them into a pair of mittens attached to the table. The psychologists found that when children were able to move their hands they were more likely to be able to find the correct answer - particularly when it was a case of trying to recall a word on "the tip of their tongue".
I'm planning a piece on "electronic fidgeting" for an upcoming episode of Spark, all about why fidgeting might not be so bad, and how designers are incorporating the human tendency to fidget into gadget and interface design. I'd love to know if or how you fidget or fiddle with your gadgets. Does it help you release nervous energy? Does it drive your partner crazy? Leave your stories below, or call them in to 1-877-34-SPARK (toll-free in Canada).