The left side of Makenna Kelly’s bedroom is just like any other child’s. Her silver and white bedspread matches a feature wall, she has a dresser with her own TV and her nickname – “Kenna” – is spelled out in wooden letters above the window. On the right side of her room, however, things are less ordinary. There are three professional studio lights and a tripod, a silver plaque congratulating her on 100,000 YouTube subscribers and a framed letter from Susan Wojcicki, YouTube’s CEO. Sellotaped on the closet door is the fan mail.
I can trigger it at will, whenever I want with any kind of intensity as I please. I can concentrate the sensation in any place of my body, say tip of a single finger or my whole body. But, I want to know, is it wrong to abuse it? Or is it good? What can happen if I continue using it? By the way, I don’t need external stimuli to activate it, just the desire to do it, it’s like moving your hand.
"Seven years later, ASMR is having a pop culture moment—even if many of those who use it don’t know what the acronym stands for. The phenomenon’s most popular practitioners have more than half a million subscribers, and the doyenne of ASMRrtists, Maria of Gentle Whispering ASMR, has been so successful that she’s been able to quit her job to role-play soothing cosmetologists, librarians and flight attendants full-time. But what is ASMR? What function does it serve, who is drawn to it, and why? Or, as researcher Craig Richard puts it: 'Why are millions of people watching someone fold a napkin?'
My main trigger is watching someone concentrating silently on a mundane task (writing, drawing, ironing, cleaning, doing a puzzle) and them not being aware that I am aware of what they are doing. I also find sometimes that having a haircut can produce the same sensation. I also find that the feeling can sometimes be accentuated by gently rubbing the back of my neck with something like a pen or the end of my glasses. I haven’t yet found a video that works as a trigger – it needs to be there for real and even then doesn’t and won’t happen “on demand”.
The website for ASMRtist United looks remarkably like it was created by a child – which it was. Founded in August 2017 by 14-year-old Jacob Daniel, the “company” offers advice to ASMRtists under the age of 18. There is a guide on how to filter sexual comments, advice on coping with cyberbullying and a post entitled “How do I stop my school from finding my channel?”.
The burgeoning Internet phenomenon was so new, it didn’t even have a name. It was so strange and hard to describe that many people felt creepy trying. It resided at the outer edge of respectability: a growing collection of YouTube videos featuring people doing quiet, methodical activities like whispering, turning magazine pages and tapping their fingers. Some viewers reported that these videos could elicit the most pleasurable sensations: a tingling feeling at the scalp and spine, coupled with euphoria and an almost trance-like relaxation.
The ASMR videos are easy to laugh at if you’re a casual observer–when I recently played one on my iPhone for guests at a dinner party, everyone cracked up within five seconds of watching the video. The videos usually include an attractive woman in a role-play scenario: She’s pretending to be an eye doctor, a makeup artist, or even checking hair for head lice. All videos are shot in first person, so the viewer appears to be alone in the room with the woman. And she’s usually whispering or speaking softly to you. It’s this combination of voice and the sounds from object interaction that the viewer hopes will trigger an ASMR experience.
I first got the tingles (as I called them) at seven years of age, I would be sitting with a friend, or alone, listening to the radio, drawing, talking, suddenly everything gets hushed, quite, talk is low, personal, close. To me, it feels like Empathy Overload! Deep feelings of shared tragedy, celebration or experience, in song, speech or shared moments of complete silence. But it’s empathy operating at a very high level, that’s what I feel. A deep understanding of the law and order of… everything,
Of course, Kelly — who was named one of Teen Vogue’s “21 under 21” in November 2018 — is not the only star in the ASMR internet community. The current largest ASMR artist, or “ASMRtist”, on YouTube, Taylor Darling, aka ASMR Darling, has two million subscribers and earns an estimated $1,000 a day in advertising revenue. Global megabrands such as IKEA, Sony, McDonald’s and Toyota have now all created ASMR-inspired adverts, and in October 2018, platinum rapper Cardi B made an ASMR video that went on to be viewed nearly 10,000,000 times. It’s no longer surprising that 75 per cent of children want to be YouTubers, but these kids don’t want to be the next beauty-blogging Zoella or game-streaming PewDiePie. They want to be the next brain-tingling ASMR Darling.
For me it’s tapping, whispering (the closer the better), hair brushing (directly on the mic, not just raking a brush through hair), and hypnosis (even if they’re only attempts or roleplay). Medical or other kinds of roleplay don’t seem to affect me at all and just come off as phony in my mind. It’s the sounds themselves, and their intensity at very close range, that hit me hardest. I don’t really care what’s being said. In fact I get just as much out of asmr in languages I don’t understand. Pretty sure French in and of itself is something of a trigger.