If you fill up a water bottle halfway and flip it in the air, it might land on the base...or maybe on the top, which would be especially amazing. It can happen, with some luck and practice-honed skill. The results are like what this viral video demonstrates:
Who wouldn’t want to be that dude being cheered by the multitudes?
Why It Is Wonderful
This isn't a mindless game but just the opposite: a fully engaged application of human ingenuity with a decisive reward. The video appeared in the spring. This summer, the activity it featured became the child and teen craze all over the country, even the world. And the trend shows no sign of abating. Through the fall and even the winter, more and more are attempting this extraordinary feat of physics.
Practicing it requires hurling the bottle up and letting it land, over and over, to the point that parents are fed up with the incessant sound of gurgle, plonk, crush. Everywhere parents are considering bans and punishments, which is understandable but regrettable.
Yes, parenting can be a struggle sometimes. But before we look down on kids who are doing this, denouncing it as yet another useless waste of time or a typical millennial diversion from responsible living, we should consider all the ways in which bottle flipping is a wonderful avocation that taps into aspirational human desires, meeting a deep need in all of us that schooling can’t possibly match.
From an early age, children are shoved into roles, routines, and collectives, told to march in lockstep with their peers for year after year, given tasks without risk or spontaneity and with rewards doled out based on compliance with external authority. It doesn’t take long for students to figure out how the system works: those who do what they are told win, and those who depart from the norm sink. This is a regime that does not reward, but rather punishes creativity, surprise, and individual expression.
Something from Nothing
In contrast to the group-think standardization of common-core policy, water-bottle flipping is a test of skill.In contrast, the most notable feature of the water-bottle game might be its creativity. The bottle does not exist for the purpose of the game. It has been repurposed to achieve an entirely different aim that was discovered and propagated entirely among the young, spreading through social media with no authoritarian dictate or conscious planning. The game is a result of a hack, not a plan.
There is a special delight in discovering how a ubiquitous vessel destined for the trash can become a treasured object of gamification with only the application of the human mind. An act of thinking followed by speculative action has transformed a mere thing into a tool of human achievement, possibly even ennoblement, thus signifying that the power of the imagination to outwit designed purposes and intentions. It reminds us of the open-ended opportunities for value creation that surround us.
And in contrast to the group-think standardization of common-core policy, water-bottle flipping is a test of skill that exists within an authentically competitive milieu. Anyone can enter the game. Anyone can work on improving one’s skill. But no one can overcome the exigencies of luck, and this adds the necessarily element of dramatic uncertainty to the task. Practice improves the odds of success but can never entirely eliminate the impact of uncontrolled and external features of the game – and in this way the activity samples and foreshadows the challenges and difficulties of life itself.
Celebrating Genuine Achievement
Still, skill is undoubtedly decisive in skewing the odds of success in your favor. It is an activity that permits excellence to reveal itself from within the collective thicket as an affirmation of individual achievement. Even given the element of luck, the credit for having achieved the goal lands squarely on the bottle flipper, who then becomes the object of praise from his or her fellows.
Note this feature carefully: the successful bottle flipper is not envied (as often happens to the “A” student in class) but genuinely appreciated by others. The achiever then inspires others to emulate that success, creating an upward trajectory of ambition that lifts up the community.
What might at first appear to be a silly game, even a terrible waste of time, is actually evidence that the human spirit will never finally submit to the mandated, the intended, the given, the routine. These aspects of the game are essential features of adult life that are sadly diminished or blotted out in the course of childhood. The problem begins early. The prevailing birthday-party fashion, for example, is to eschew traditional competitive games like musical chairs and replace them with collective activities that are supposed to universalize and equalize access to fun. The idea is to create life events in which no one is considered a winner or loser.
The trouble here is that this goal of collective fun comes at the expense of the very human desire to excel and win. If we take that away from kids, we also fail to reward initiative and recognize the contribution of human volition to the creation of successful life outcomes.
The tendency to disparage competitive ambition and individual achievement through departing from expected norms continues throughout school and even into young adulthood. The result is the gradual unfolding of 12-16 long and dull years of collective compliance, as signified in graduation ceremonies in which everyone dresses the same and celebrates the mass handing out of pieces of paper that signify only successful completion of someone else’s plan for your life.
Into this extended childhood template of gray, bottle flipping comes as a flash of innovative color, one that celebrates adaptive repurposing, competition, achievement, skill, and decisive outcomes that are publicly revealed for all to cheer. This isn't a mindless game but just the opposite: a fully engaged application of human ingenuity with a decisive reward.
What might at first appear to be a silly game, even a terrible waste of time, is actually evidence that the human spirit will never finally submit to the mandated, the intended, the given, the routine. It will always strive to break free. The outcome of this freedom can never be known in advance but there is sweet victory when, following that reckless toss in the air, the bottle lands facing up.