Bob Ross painting clouds, a Russian woman doing your makeup, a Japanese man folding origami and a Dutch woman reading a bedtime story. What do these things have in common? For a growing number of YouTube viewers, the answer is ASMR or Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response.
Described variously as attention induced euphoria (AIE), head tingles and brain orgasms, ASMR remained an "unnamed feeling" until the Internet connected those "sensationalists" searching for answers as early as 2008. With features on This American Life and in Oprah's O Magazine, ASMR is only just beginning to enter the mainstream.
For those susceptible, ASMR is commonly triggered by such innocuous stimuli as whispers, clicking sounds, watching other people performing simple tasks, or getting close, personal attention from someone.
While little is known about the science behind this neurological phenomenon, a community of predominately female YouTube producers has turned the quest for tingles into a technical art form. And much like other forms of art, separating the perverse from the profound proves a major distraction, with producers and viewers alike struggling to extricate themselves from fetishism and pornography.
On the Reddit forum dedicated to ASMR, nearly 65,000 subscribers share their favorite "sounds that feel good." However, the ASMR subreddit is quick to clarify that ASMR shouldn't feel too good. Those browsers looking to combine their relaxation and arousal are firmly directed to the markedly less popular, not safe for work ASMR subreddit.
Regardless of these delineations, selecting your own private ASMR experience via YouTube among various "role plays," breaks down the fourth wall between producer and viewer, blurring traditional notions of intimacy. For many outside the ASMR community these kinds of relationships inspire misgivings with shades of Spike Jonze's Her or David Cronenberg's Videodrome.
In 2013, ABC News wrote an article titled, "ASMR artists: Videos not for sex, but for relaxation," clearly targeting an audience that could not conceive of non-erotic videos produced to induce a physiological response. In the article, ASMR video producers adamantly defend their art as a public service for those dealing with various forms of anxiety -- except, apparently, those who find ASMR itself, anxiety-inducing.
Even though the ASMR community is known for its "blissed out," supportive atmosphere, ASMR artists must constantly regulate Internet comments, requests and harassments on top of producing and editing videos that average 45 minutes. In the video below, the ASMR artist known as JustAWhisperingGuy on Youtube explains "How to Make ASMR Videos."
In this soft-spoken tutorial, JustAWhisperingGuy argues that producing ASMR videos can be simple and inexpensive, however, successful ASMR artists must master improvisational foley techniques using strange props, and invest in expensive equipment, such as binaural microphones, to create 3D sound experiences.
Unfortunately, much like the uncompensated emotional labor women have performed for years, many ASMR artists, both male and female, are uncomfortable monetizing their YouTube channels and feel forced to choose between nurturing an online following and pursuing offline careers.
And while our culture promotes platonically soothing males like Bob Ross and Mr. Rogers in public forums as paternal figures, it shames maternal figures such as female ASMR artists who operate through more private channels.
In the case of ASMR, the medium -- YouTube -- is the message. The ASMR experience is all about you and your needs. As we puzzle over how ASMR affects individuals on the receiving end, let us not forget the cultivated artistry and dedication of those ASMR artists producing videos and bringing researchers closer to understanding this unique phenomenon.
Watch the Dutch ASMR artist, Ilse, answer the question, "What is ASMR?" for herself.