The overstimulated, quantified internet subject seeks the roots of intimacy in ASMR videos where strangers roleplay caretaking
Over the past five years, autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) has become the focal point of a robust community of online enthusiasts. In its protoplasmic early life on blogs and message boards, it was simply dubbed “the Unnamed Feeling”: a blissful sensation of tingling along the scalp and vertebral axis that results from a set of reliable interpersonal triggers, distinct to each participant, but often with a great deal of overlap: soft voices, kind words, a conceit of caregiving.
The group’s coalescence was spontaneous and stumbling, in a way that seems typical for Internet-based discovery. Frequenters of online comment threads began offering halting accounts of a supposedly private experience that, it turns out, was enthusiastically shared. They reported a history of such reactions trailing back to their early youth, recurrent and unexpected glimmers of joy in response to close conversation and casual touch. Awareness of the phenomenon has snowballed as this proclivity has been profiled by various media outlets, mostly in a tone of wondering confusion.
Since coming into knowledge of one another and giving themselves a name, self-styled “ASMR-tists” have put forward countless videos specifically designed to provoke this response. The content of these videos range from the silent handling of common objects like hair brushes or cotton swabs to prolonged whispered monologues to role-play scenarios of impressive audiovisual nuance. In the role-play videos, performers look straight at you for the better part of an hour, gesturing around the camera lens to suggest that you are there, an arm’s length away, being gently manipulated. Clips tend to recapitulate standard scenarios (haircuts and doctor’s visits among the most ubiquitous), but new variations emerge each month: Now you are being fitted for a suit; now you are booking a cruise; now you are surviving an apocalypse.