Bottle flipping: I gave it a month. Here are my thoughts.

When I was a kid, we climbed the highest trees. Rode our bikes without any hands. Jumped across roaring streams. Skateboarded down concrete steps. Threw tennis balls at each other.

Today children flip half-filled plastic water bottles in the air in hopes of landing them in a standing position.

Perhaps this is unfair. Simply because they flip water bottles incessantly doesn't mean they don't do all those other things. I don't see them doing these other things, and they seem overly concerned about dirtying their clothes or getting their shoes wet, but maybe I'm not looking closely enough. Maybe today's youth are scampering up trees and splashing through streams with reckless abandon when I'm not looking. 

Still, they flip bottles. And when they capture their flip on camera, they get millions of views on YouTube. There are even apps dedicated to water blottle flipping. 

As part of a New Year's resolution to try things that I don't understand or have a negative view toward, I spent a month flipping bottles with kids at my school. During recess and after school, I joined in, flipping half-empty water bottles into the air in an attempt to land them in a standing position.

Here are my observations:

  1. It's not hard to get fairly proficient at simple bottle flipping. I became adept at this practice relatively quickly. 
  2. Filling the bottle about one-third of the way seems ideal for flipping.  
  3. The kids have NO DESIRE to add any layer of competition to this activity. They simply want to mindlessly flip water bottles on their own, almost unaware of the bottle flippers around them. This was the most surprising and disappointing aspect of this exercise to me and mildly disconcerting in terms of the future of our civilization. 
  4. Bottle flipping would have been impossible in my childhood, since the ridiculousness of bottled water wasn't sold in stores until 1983 and only gained significant market share in the 1990's. But try explaining to anyone under 30 that there was a time when water wasn't readily available in stores and people were forced to quench their thirsts via drinking fountains (bubblers where I grew up), garden hoses, and taps. Minds blown. 
  5. Ultimately, I did not enjoy bottle flipping and felt that it was a tragic waste of time. I tried to compare it favorably with the time I spent as a child playing my Atari 5200 and pouring quarters into pinballs machines and video games at arcades throughout the northeast, but in the end, I found the two activities incomparable for a few reasons:
  • First, kids spend more time playing video games than ever before, so it's not as if bottle flipping has replaced any time in front of screens. They have simply layered this time-wasting activity atop their time spent gaming.
  • Second, there is also almost no socializing aspect to this activity. The kids bottle flip in near isolation, even if there are fellow flippers beside them. When I played video games, we collaborated and/or competed against one another depending upon the game. We watched the best gamers perform, hoping to learn tips and tricks for next time. Video games brought my friends and I together in basements, living rooms, and malls. We challenged one another, taunted and boasted mid-game, and created memories that I still have today: specific, joyous, heartbreaking moments of standing alongside my pals, joystick in hand, battling it out over silver balls, enlarged pixels and electronic beeps.  
  • It's not difficult to master this skill. Admittedly, there are bottle flippers on YouTube who have done some incredible things, but the average bottle flipper is simply looking to land that bottle upright. Not hard. Video games were high stakes and difficult. You invested money and time in order to beat the game, flip the machine, conquer the highest level, and add your initials to the high score. This took dedication and  persistence. I don't see this from today's bottle flippers.

In the end, bottle flipping will go away. Disappear into forgotten history. I already see it happening. Even as I flipped, kids became less enamored by the activity. Fewer children joined the pursuit. This is good, because it is a stupid and mindless way to spend one's time, and its waning popularity is an indication of this.

Sadly, I don't see the demise of bottle flipping leading to an increase in tree climbing, stream jumping, or skateboarding. These soulful, physically demanding, high stakes activities have not disappeared into the ether, but they are not nearly as popular as they were in my youth. They will not go the way of the bottle flip but instead continue to be practiced by those children who still seek to challenge elements and are fortunate enough to have parents who allow them to exist beyond fences and leashes and into the world of water and rock and sky.