I've been watching ASMR videos for several years now but only felt brave enough to write about it here, now.
I happened upon the ASMR community by accident one evening while sitting alone in the cozy bachelor apartment I had in Toronto, looking for soothing videos. I think I found ASMR through a video of a man who was an expert at playing with hair - hair massages - and although it was not labeled ASMR, it sent me in that direction. The other video that sent me deeper into this was a salt video. A woman was playing with salt and speaking soothingly and I found it mesmerizing. I realized, as I went along, that there were many different ways that I was affected, whether it was someone touching the camera, slowly turning the pages of a book, making art or writing on paper, tapping on various surfaces - the list goes on and continues to grow, just as the community has over the years.
This wasn't new to me, the sensation of it. I remember it from watching Bob Ross paint - his way of speaking, his touch of the brush on canvas. I also have a memory reaching back into my past of a girlfriend that my step-brother had - of the way she handled his cassettes as though they were delicate objects, her hands touching the items as though they were of immense value, precious. I noticed she had that slow gracious way about her in her movements and it was so interesting to klutzy me. As well, any positive attention throughout my younger years from friends who might brush my hair or put eyeliner on me, the back tickles thing where you spell out letters and draw shapes - my sensitivity to touch, to the sound of a good voice, to certain experiences remains heightened - especially the longer I go without it, even now.
When ASMR started to get talked about in the media, when the secret escaped the community that had formed and was picked up by mainstream news (with much speculation) I wasn't surprised that it would remain difficult to explain. Many of us never had a name for it until we found one another (through YouTube, significantly) and even now, there are many who might make videos or leave comments but might never talk about it to their real life friends and family. I mean, seriously, it sounds kind of weird, doesn't it?
There is also the concern that people are going to sexualize it. The rule of the internet being, if it exists, someone is getting off to it. This is something that I think the ASMR community is aware of (content creators, all the more so, if they are in receipt of lewd messages and requests) but for the majority, there is this hope and need to keep the community safe and the experience good. But then, what use is it, but for pleasure of some kind? Doesn't the very name of it allude to that?
In my case, I find ASMR relaxes me. It calms me. It makes me forget myself for a bit. It's like getting lost in a film or piece of music or a t.v. show - a distraction, maybe? - it helps one not to dwell on other things, especially the negative. For people who experience anxiety (such as myself) this is an effective tool. From simple videos of someone whispering to a more elaborate role play of an imagined scenario (from the mundane task to a creative story-like idea) each video and each ASMR Artist (as some call themselves) contributes to a vast community that is affecting people's lives.
No wonder mainstream media is confused. How can it be possible that someone would watch someone scratch the surfaces of books with their fingernails for a half hour or so - and that people would actually watch that all the way through? Or that make up brushes would be used on the camera lenses to make various sounds or that it is make believe that your own face is being touched by the brush - and again, that could be another half hour or longer - and people are watching this? Aren't we supposed to be the generation of limited attention span? What is going on here?
I think it has to do, partly, with that. It's specifically stated in some videos as "personal attention" and I think most all of these videos have that in common, even if they are someone moving a chopstick through sand, brushing someone's hair, whispering ear to ear about their day, often, indecipherable. It's the alternative to the rush and go. The opposite to the disconnect. Time where you get to feel like you're special, or that someone has time for you.
Think about how much time we spend with our technology and how little time we spend with others, truly with someone else. How often are we close to someone, to where we pay attention to them, to where someone has the time for us? It's stressful these days, what with work (or no work) and so many obligations and the pace of life around us.
I feel like ASMR is a movement that, in it's own way, is trying to take people back to when we played. When we listened. When we reached out to one another. When we took the time to care for ourselves and one another. I think it is about the need for that. For that attention. For that comfort. For that reassurance that we are not so strange, or if we are, we are not alone.
For some, it's all about the triggers - the tingles that one can feel from a particular video. For others, it's about that and about community, about experiencing the world through someone else's sensory perspective and having new ones of our own.
I don't know what the future holds for ASMR. Whether or not it will be verified by medical professionals to be a relaxation technique that can be helpful or tainted by the dark side of the internet. If it will be exploited, ruined by mainstream consumption. Or by the community itself, which, as it grows, is likely to attract people who may not have the best intentions or motivations for participating. I try not to worry about that though. A lot of good and many friendships have come from the existence of the ASMR community. Whatever happens next, I'm glad I was able to watch it become what it is: Amazing.
* Know Your Meme: ASMR
* ASMR Brain Orgasms Spark Active Online Communities
* ASMR What is This Tingling Sensation in My Head?
* ASMR by Steven Novella
* ASMR on reddit
* & for some fun (please have a sense of humour) ASMR Unnecessary Censorship (Not Relaxing?)
This post was written for the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge but I've been thinking about writing this for a long time.