Jessie Raymond: Triggering euphoria is no science
Listen to this: scritch, scritch, scritch; tap, tap, tap; tick, tick, tick.
Do those sounds give you chills? If they were actual ASMR triggers, they might.
Let me explain.
The first time I heard the phrase “ASMR trigger,” I frowned; I thought that only kicked in once I had met my deductible. As it turns out, ASMR has nothing to do with insurance. It stands for “autonomous sensory meridian response,” and all the cool people are looking to have theirs triggered.
ASMR is described as a tingling sensation, often on the back of the neck, associated with low-grade euphoria. Who doesn’t want more of that?
According to Wikipedia, ASMR is “most commonly triggered by specific auditory or visual stimuli,” such as whispering or the tapping of a keyboard, or by “tender personal attention,” such as having one’s hair brushed or nails painted, or being groomed for bugs while sitting in a tree (this last one may be specific to baboons; Wikipedia wasn’t clear).
Though the term is new to me, I guess I’ve known about ASMR for years, since I first watched artist Bob Ross’s “Joy of Painting” on PBS. While publicly I made fun of his laid-back, hippie approach to landscape painting — so boring! — I found myself mesmerized as he softly described his process and scraped paint across the canvas with a palette knife. Hello, low-grade euphoria!
While 30 years ago, ASMR was just a side effect of Ross’s show, now people are creating videos for the sole purpose of evoking such a response. A friend of mine loves these videos; she’s discovered that the sound of people whispering into microphones or tapping their fingernails on wood or glass literally sends shivers up her spine.
Intrigued, I checked out some of these ASMR trigger videos. Conclusion: They’re odd.
Often, attractive yet creepy people stand close to a microphone, smiling while they crumple paper or drag their nails across various surfaces. Sometimes they whisper or make other mouth noises.
Maybe I’m ASMR impaired, but when I hear someone’s lips, tongue and teeth all smacking together up close, my spine remains shiver-free and I lose my appetite.
However, while I don’t get tingles, I do have an ASMR soft spot. Among the dazzling, and sometimes disturbing, array of ASMR videos, I found one genre that quickly lulls me to sleep: A person sits in a chair while another person — occasionally whispering, per YouTube’s ASMR terms of service — slowly and gently massages their neck and shoulders. Within moments, I’m nodding off, having forgotten that I was supposed to be working on my taxes.
Regardless of how I feel about these videos in general, they’re popular. And lucrative. ASMR “artists” record themselves doing all the things you used to do to quietly annoy an older sibling without your parents noticing, such as repeatedly crinkling plastic or making lip noises, and the advertising dollars are rolling in.
One woman in Pennsylvania is making six figures on YouTube. Her most popular ASMR video involves — get this — running her tongue across the foam cover of a large microphone.
I can just picture her when the alarm goes off on Monday morning: “Time to lick the microphone; that mortgage isn’t going to pay itself.”
So for all of you people working a side hustle by, say, selling handmade beaded necklaces, consider instead making a video of yourself running one through your fingers, over and over, next to a microphone. The ASMR crowd will low-grade euphoria itself into a frenzy.
I might have even found a niche for myself. Wikipedia lists a common ASMR stimulus as “watching somebody attentively execute a mundane task such as preparing food.” This is fantastic: Executing mundane tasks is how I spend most of my free time. Could I film myself unloading the dishwasher, grating cheese or folding laundry to the fascination of audiences worldwide?
Honestly, I don’t see it.
But I do like to imagine the resulting tap, tap, tap — the sound of my calculator as I tally up my YouTube cheese-grating earnings.
At last, an ASMR trigger that could give me tingles.
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