Friday, December 02, 2016
When I was a kid, I read an absurd amount of science fiction, and it was oddly comforting. Growing up in the country miles away from other kids in the 1970's was fine and dandy. Why? Because I knew from the books on my shelves that by the time I turned 40, my robot chauffeur would be piloting my flying car to the teleporter that would take me to my job as President of the United States and Federated Galaxies.
Liar, liar, the future's pants are on fire. I'm in my forties and I see no flying car. All I have is a Hyundai that yells "RECALCULATING!" at me while remaining disappointingly Earthbound. I'm not teleporting anywhere, and don't get me started on my failed ascent to the presidency (although I'm starting to feel like I could do a better job than the fellow we recently installed in the position.)
The future might not be all it was cracked to be in the paperback books of the 1970s, but we DO have one impressive technological achievement going for us: the internet. It's broken new ground in communication and commerce. It's given us everything from cat videos to Justin Bieber. It is simultaneously the world's greatest time-saver and time-waster.
But mostly, I love the internet for its infinite supply of weirdness.
I used to think I was a weird guy. I mean, the evidence is fairly clear: I sleep with my socks on. I have no earthly idea how to snap my fingers. I enjoy the taste of Kaopectate. I'm kind of a freak.
But once you surf the web for long enough, you discover that nearly EVERYONE is off-center a little bit. If you do something quirky that you worry is weird, you can always find someone on the internet doing things a HECK of a lot quirkier. I might sleep with my socks on, but that doesn't seem so bad when you discover there's a website devoted exclusively to fan-fiction stories exclusively about covering the late musician Roy Orbison in Saran-Wrap.
Enjoy dressing up like a furry animal? There's a whole online subculture out there for you. Harbor a fantasy of hypnotizing strangers? There's a website for that, too. Want to study amateur taxidermy to learn how to sew ten dead rats together to make something called a "ratipede"? That site really exists.
But recently I stumbled into what might be the weirdest online subculture I've ever found on the internet, and I'm a little extra freaked out -- because I might be one of them.
Have you ever been overcome by a tingly sensation in your body when you're happy or relaxed? Kind of a euphoric goosebump-y feeling that starts in your scalp and moves down the back of your neck and upper spine? I'm pretty sure I have. Like when I'm at a concert and the lights go out and I know that I'm seconds away from seeing one of my favorite bands. Or if I'm super relaxed and someone runs their fingers through my hair. Once, I tried one of those head massagers with the little metal talons and I got the tingles so bad I had to set it down and walk away. Until now, I had always just dismissed this as passing goosebumps.
Well, not only is that feeling an actual THING, but there are people and websites devoted to it. It's called ASMR -- autonomous sensory meridian response -- and it's one weird world.
I was about two hours deep in a rabbithole of binge-watching random videos on Youtube when I happened upon my first ASMR video. In it, a young woman sits in front of a camera -- and brushes her hair for seven minutes. All the while, the volume is artificially enhanced so you can hear every brush stroke. Meanwhile, she narrates the process in a voice that's barely a whisper. It was the single silliest thing I'd seen in a long while, and the kind of video where the ONLY possible response is to mutter, "What the...?" Welcome to the world of ASMR.
According to Wikipedia, the "tingly" sensation of ASMR is usually precipitated by some kind of trigger stimulus. And, as it turns out, a majority of folks prone to this sensation claim that it can be triggered by listening to a soft-spoken whispery voice or the quiet repetitive sounds associated with mundane tasks like turning the pages in a book, brushing one's hair, or preparing food.
So, as it turns out, people are watching this whispering woman brushing her hair in hopes of triggering euphoric brain tingles -- and it's but one of HUNDREDS of ASMR videos out there.
It didn't take me long to find Tony Bomboni, an ASMR enthusiast known for his videos where, among other things, he quietly scoops ice cream for twenty minutes while whispering to you. Or another video, where he cleans his ears with a Q-Tip for a full hour. But none of that could prepare me for the popular ASMR video creator who goes by the moniker Kluna Tik. Kluna's videos -- and there are HUNDREDS -- are all first person visuals of someone eating imaginary meals -- except that the biting and chomping sounds are all highly exaggerated, and through the magic of stop-motion animation, his "meals" usually consist of things like bricks, crayons, and yes, dirty Q-Tips (that perhaps he got from Tony Bomboni.)
My instinct is to dismiss this as some kind of wacky perverted fetish, but the ASMR community goes out of their way to insist that there's NOTHING sexual about their hobby. Instead, they swear it's just a way to relax, experience some tingles, and go to sleep. As someone who may have experienced ASMR before, a little part of me was terrified that I might see these videos, start tingling and become an ASMR junkie. With my luck, in ten years we WILL have flying cars and teleporters, but I'll have no time for that because I'll be preoccupied watching some guy clean his ears for an hour straight.
Happily, the only thing these videos triggered in me was laughter, mild revulsion, and the deep satisfaction that comes from knowing you're not as weird as you may think you are. So have at it, friends. If listening to people whisper gives you tingles, then tingle away. The internet's a mighty big place, and we've got room for all kinds of fellow weirdos.
If nothing else, it certainly gives me something to watch until the day my car starts flying.