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  1. Science & Tech
19 February 2015

Welcome to the world of autonomous sensory meridian response videos, the internet’s soft play area

For some people, videos of people performing intricate tasks or crinkling paper can produce a satisfying tingling feeling. If you can suspend your cyncism, it’s one of the nicest places on the internet to be.

By Eleanor Margolis

“Prob not going to make it tonight, feeling rough,” I text. I’m taking a social sick day, and what I actually mean is, “Prob not going to make it tonight, can’t be bothered to stand in a hot room, sipping a drink that I had to queue for 40 minutes to get.” What I actually, actually mean is, “Prob not going to make it tonight, a woman off the internet is doing stuff to my ears, and I’m into it.”

Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) videos are, objectively speaking, the weirdest thing on the world wide web. They’re weirder than this, this and this. But they’re also an internet sensation. The one I’m watching, the one about ears, has over 400,000 views. A 20-minute video where a woman prods a disembodied silicone ear with various objects has been watched nearly half a million times. But why?

In case you haven’t read one of the many, many articles about what ASMR is, I’m going to attempt to explain. And boy, this is a real humdinger of complexity. I’m not sure I’m cut out for this. OK – it’s effectively a satisfying tingling feeling (or “braingasm”) that some people, myself included, get from watching and listening to other people performing, say, an intricate task. Or crinkling some paper. Or whispering in your ear. When I was at school, for example, I had a friend who used to draw on her hands in lessons. When I sat next to her, quadratic equations and conjugating “être” became background noise. I’d be too mesmerised by watching her tattoo herself in biro to even function.

A decade later I learnt that not only is there a name for what was going on in my head when I zenned the hell out in French and maths, but there are millions of other people who experience it. And, unwittingly, I suppose I’ve become a member of the nascent ASMR community. And I hate communities. And I hate hippy dippy, kale juice enemas, reiki hand jobs bollocks. And, for anyone who doesn’t experience ASMR, that’s exactly what most of the videos probably look like. A lot of it is women whispering about relaxation, in this babbling, nonsensical, stream of consciousness way. But, holy shit is it calming.  

In fact, I’m honestly not exaggerating when I say that ASMR videos have changed my life. They’re sometimes more effective than sleeping pills in getting me, an anxiety ridden insomniac depressive, to drop off. Really and truly. I mean sure, there’s going to come a point when you’re 15 minutes into a video of a woman blowing on a saucepan where you think, “What the fuck is my life?” But, if you’re truly relaxed for the first time in three years, does that really matter?

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THANK YOU

ASMR videos are the internet’s soft play area. Anyone who spends even a fifth of the amount of time that I do online will know that it’s at least 93 per cent shouty caps lock arguments. If you fancy a holiday from all that, I highly recommend you suspend your cynicism – I managed it – and get into ASMR. If you don’t believe me, just look at the comments on any given ASMR video. We all know that, a dreaded glance over the comments section of a video of a penguin falling over will usually direct you straight to someone being called “worse than Hitler”. The comments on ASMR videos are things like, “this really helped me get to sleep, thanks J” and “I want to hug whoever invented ASMR”.

Hugs. Actual hugs. 

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