Monday, July 4, 2016

An Open Letter to ASMR Creators

Dear ASMR Creators,

You are creeping me out. What started as pure joy just two weeks ago has now turned to uncertainty and self-doubt. Let me explain.

Ever since I was a kid, I knew that certain sounds relaxed me. In elementary school, I finished my work early just to hear the scratching of other students' pencils as they worked. Sure, I thought I it was kind of weird, but it relaxed me. I kept it to myself. Another example: I'm the kind of person who gets a haircut and says nothing. It's confounding to stylists who feel compelled to talk to make clients happy. I'm much happier not talking, just listening to the sound of the scissors and razors. The attention of having my hair cut relaxes me.

In my career I watch many technology videos and I discovered that certain ones relax me. Specifically, I like videos presented with a soft, even voice. The voice combined with the tapping of keys and the clicking of a mouse relaxes me. Then one day a light bulb went off: I could use these videos to relax before falling asleep. It worked and soon I was watching videos to nod off. Furthermore, the videos I liked the most I saved offline, worried they might be removed from the Internet and I'd never find them again. I felt a little weird about it all, but hey, I wasn't breaking the law.

It became very clear I really liked certain sounds to relax when one year we commissioned a bricklayer to rebuild our chimney. During the several months the bricklayer worked outside, I lay down on the floor inside, out of view, relishing the sounds. First, a gentle tap, tap, tap as he used the trowel handle to adjust the brick level. Then, a soft scrape of the trowel blade as it picked up extra mortar squeezed out as the brick settled into place. Very strange, but even stranger was that I found bricklaying videos on the Internet and used them to relax before going to bed long after the chimney was finished.

My partner says I’m cheating on him with a bricklayer.

But here's the thing: these actions, in real life or video, weren't created specifically to relax me, that was just an happy accident.

Now imagine my surprise, when just a few weeks ago I discovered ASMR: Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. Those tingles on my scalp and down my spine that come about when listening to certain sound have a name! I discovered I wasn't alone. I wasn't that odd after all. I found all sorts of information about ASMR and videos created to trigger ASMR "spine tingles".

But, as I started looking closer, I realized that many of these videos actually made me feel uncomfortable, and in some cases creeped me out. To name just a few: ASMR Makeup Roleplay, ASMR tapping (including 10 hours of tapping, crinkle & trigger sounds where the host is wearing a rubber glove crinkling packaging at one point in the video), ASMR eating, ASMR barber, ASMR towel folding, Tony Bomboni (hi poopsies!), and a full body massage labeled as ASMR that unfortunately I can never erase from my mind.

I admit that part of the problem with the videos labeled ASMR could be my reluctance to be identified as someone who wants to use these videos to relax. Before, when I didn't know what my relaxation mojo was called, I felt slightly weird in my private pleasures but at least it was my thing. Now, I'm faced with the choice of belonging to a community of people who relax when someone applies make-believe makeup on a camera lens, folds towels for hours on end, or obsessively touches book covers and taps things.  Case in point for tapping: ASMR Elder Scrolls Maps, what are they and why does an off-camera, self-titled ASMR nerd fondle and tap the maps in such unnatural ways?

That brings me to another part of my apprehension with much of the ASMR content that I find. It is overly self-conscious in its attempt to evoke ASMR. For me, the best ASMR is evoked unintentionally. Great you say, look up unintentional ASMR. But that too seems to have been abused with labels such as "unintentional ASMR" or "inadvertent ASMR" while clearly going for an ASMR effect. People in fact label existing content like old Rob Ross videos (man can he paint!) or Dr. Willie Ong (drink your water!) videos as ASMR. Who knows if the subject of the video would even want that label?

Please forgive me if I sound strident. I went from 0 to 60 mph with ASMR, just too darn quickly and it's all a bit of a rush. I need to slow down, cool off, maybe watch some ASMR jewelry show and tell. That might calm me down. Honestly, perhaps my real problem is with the Internet. I just don't feel special anymore, at any level. Everything is revealed. My private little pleasures seem like been-there-done-that. But what is one to do, stick their head in the (ASMR) sand?


P.S. I admit that I do have a special affection for yanghaiying's museum tours, tea blah blah blah videos, and the Math Whisperer.

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