Student journalist writes an insider profile of the journey and perspectives of the ASMR artist, theASMRnerd.

ASMR Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response UniversityWill Koziey-Kronas is an undergraduate student majoring in Professional Writing at the University of Toronto in Canada.

For his course, Introduction to Journalistic Investigations, he was assigned to write a profile piece.

He chose to profile ASMR through the experiences of an ASMR artist.  Will explains why,

“People who aren’t familiar with ASMR are usually fascinated by it when their introduced for the first time.  I figured a piece about an ASMR creator, written as an introduction to ASMR, would be very compelling.”

Will’s next task was to find an ASMR artist to interview. In a large sea of hyper-busy content creators this could have been a bit of a challenge.  And it was.  But fishing and journalism is about patience and persistence and his paid off,

“…there wasn’t much incentive I could offer to creators that would make the interview seem worthwhile. I emailed about ten ASMR creators anyway – creators I followed for a long time – and crossed my fingers.

Nick, theASMRnerd, ended up being the only one who responded, and I jumped at the opportunity (of course, I’m also a fan of Nick’s content).”

Fishing and journalism are also known for “the hook”.   Will explains his experience with writing his introduction,

“The first few paragraphs of my piece were read aloud to the class as part of a workshop exercise, so I heard a few classmates chime in about their experiences with ASMR.

I got some feedback that suggested I really highlight the “weird” aspects of ASMR in the intro, but I didn’t follow suit because I wanted to avoid the sensationalism you sometimes see in ASMR discussions.”

Overall, Will wrote his paper as an introduction to ASMR through the journey and experiences of an ASMR artist.  In the process he discovered some things about Nick, theASMRnerd, which he found quite intriguing.

Below is Will’s complete paper followed by a link to learn more about Nick, theASMRnerd.

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An Introduction to ASMR, From the Perspective of Someone Who Makes It.
Written by Will Koziey-Kronas
November 13th, 2017

Nick, an environmental scientist, lives in Vancouver. When he’s not busy with his PhD, he’s often playing video games. When he’s not playing video games, you might find him whispering into a microphone. And if he’s not in front of a mic or a controller, he’s probably uploading those whispers to his YouTube channel, “theASMRnerd”.

Nick’s channel is one of many thousands in Youtube’s “ASMR” community. From his hour-long Magic: The Gathering card unboxings to his myriad reviews of mechanical keyboards – all spoken in hushed tones – Nick creates videos designed to trigger ASMR. Short for autonomous sensory meridian response, ASMR is a pleasant tingling sensation felt in the scalp, triggered by soft, slow speech patterns, repetitive sounds, and personal attention. If you’ve ever closed your eyes at the barber’s and sunk blissfully into your chair, that’s because a haircut involves a lot of the ingredients associated with ASMR.

Nick described the channel in simpler terms: “I make relaxation videos. That’s the easiest way to describe it.” If you start with the technical definition, Nick said, “people are like … what?”

The confusion is understandable. “Actual tingles aren’t something most people experience” says Nick. “But, everyone can relate to the feeling of watching a relaxing video”.

Many of us have experiences (usually childhood ones) watching or listening to something soothing or pleasant – something as simple as a mother’s lullaby. For Nick, that something was Mr. Roger’s Neighbourhood. Mr. Roger’s low voice and deliberate tone soothed, but it was his genuine passion and attentiveness that had Nick transfixed. As an adult, Nick took to watching art tutorial videos on YouTube, seeking instructors with the same deliberate speech patterns and affection for the subject matter. When he found them, he watched to relax, occasionally feeling a gentle tingling in the back of his scalp.

Unbeknownst to Nick, that relaxing, tingly sensation has a name and a devout following. As Nick watched Origami how-tos, a subculture of intentional ASMR emerged: videos of people intentionally speaking softly, and intentionally performing simple tasks with focus and care. Nick’s first exposure to that community was a Reddit thread, titled “What’s something that you experience that you’re not sure if others experience?.” Reading a top-comment that described a mellow physical response to soft voices and personal attention, Nick recalls his excitement after finding out he wasn’t the only one: “I was like, ‘holy %#&$! Holy %#&$! That’s the thing!’”

Nick’s discovery led him to the ASMR Subreddit, a hub for intentional ASMR videos. Populating the subreddit was a variety of content: a 45 minute close-up whispering here, two hours of gentle tapping on a hardcover textbook there, and even roleplays, where creators donned an outfit and decorated their bedroom with props to recreate the atmosphere of a haircut. Despite his enthusiasm for quiet tones, listening to deliberate whispers took some getting used to. “Knowing that other people experienced this was really cool, but the intentional videos at first I found really awkward”. Nick says. He couldn’t watch them at first. “When you’re new to it, and you don’t know the creator, it can seem a little bit creepy. Being in a one-on-one situation with someone who’s whispering to you isn’t an everyday social context.”

“Creepy”, “awkward”, or “weird” are common descriptors newcomers use when introduced to ASMR. Even those who experience ASMR in unintentional settings have difficulty adjusting to intentional content. Kurt van Bendegem, a 3rd year student at the University of Toronto, uses ASMR to unwind in between the daily stresses of his computer science degree. Kurt’s preferred variety of ASMR, however, is unintentional: videos not technically classified or intended as ASMR, but prone to triggering tingling or relaxation regardless (suit fittings, pet groomings, and, of course, art tutorials). “The intentional videos have very little effect on me” Kurt reasoned. “They can feel forced and creepy. I think I’m most prone to ASMR when the content feels real”. If realism is a concern, it’s understandable why, say, a 30 minute video of someone playing with a water spritzer infront of plastic ears is off-putting instead of relaxing.

Finding the right creators helped Nick get over that creep-factor. “I needed to feel like the person was genuine, that they weren’t just in it for the views or some other weird reason.” ASMR isn’t just about the sounds – “(Sincerity) is an important subtlety a lot of people miss.” Like Mr. Rogers, it was the creators with the most self-effacing desire to help the viewer relax that helped Nick settle in.

Sincerity was something Nick noticed a lot of as he consumed more ASMR. “You start to feel a connection with the creators. Reading the comments, it just seemed like a really supportive community”.

“I could do this,” Nick thought.

So, on February 12th, 2013, Nick uploaded his first video. Captured with an up close camera angle and phone-quality mic, Nick kickstarted his channel with a 20 minute ramble about the history of Pokemon cards, chronicling his passion for Pokemon as his index finger traced delicate patterns across the surface of a limited-edition Nidorino card. Since then Nick’s content hasn’t deviated far: four years later, he’s still whispering about nerdy things, be it Star Wars, The Elder Scrolls, or video cards. If there’s another constant to his videos, it’s his enthusiasm. Wanting to recreate the same sincere tone that he admired, Nick’s excitement is ever-palpable. “I’m always trying to create something that I’d want to watch.”

Other people want to watch, too. Since 2013 Nick has accumulated 58,000 subscribers and 11 million total views. But in contrast to some of ASMR’s biggest creators, Nick isn’t exactly a superstar. This year, Gentle Whispering became the first ASMR channel to reach a million subscribers, a milestone for a community less than a decade old. Nick is hopeful that milestone won’t be the last: “as a broader mainstream phenomenon, I think ASMR will continue to grow.”

With growth comes growing pains, however, and Nick can attest that progress hasn’t been without issue. For Nick, the biggest problem is misinterpretation. “(ASMR) often involves close, personal attention, and at least a sense of proximity. Creators have taken that proximity and used it to create videos about emotional support, and that kind of thing.” But Nick worries that creators have leveraged that personal attention and proximity in other ways. “There’s a lot of sexual ASMR out there. Because, you know, sex sells, that’s human nature.”

For Nick, sexualized ASMR isn’t a problem in itself. “But because a lot of what gets attention tends to be these more sexualized videos, you have an issue where people get the wrong impression of what ASMR is”.

And the issue goes beyond public misinterpretation. If viewers start to perceive ASMR as inherently sexual, the door for harassment is blown wide open. For women creators in particular, “You get these situations where someone creates a video with pure intentions and gets all these weird, creepy comments. Ideally that’s something we’d work on across the whole internet, but it’s a more acute issue with ASMR because of the intimacy that’s part and parcel with the format” Nick says. YouTube itself is struggling to interpret ASMR, flagging videos as non-advertiser friendly despite being devoid of any sensitive content.

Even the scientific community has struggled to clarify the fuzzy biological basis of ASMR: about the only thing they’re sure of is that it exists. Some suspect the tingling is an ancestral response to primate grooming, and others suspect it’s a minute form of seizure. Few academics have written on ASMR, and the writing that exists generally concludes that there’s more room for research and study – not just for the sake of learning what tingling is, but how it might be applied in clinic and beyond.

“So yeah, there’s stuff to work on” Nick said. “ASMR is always weird at first. Whenever there’s confusion, I try to remember my first reactions to intentional ASMR as well. But the most important thing is remembering that intentions are good.”

Works Cited: Novella, S. (2012, March 12). ASMR. Retrieved November 17, 2017, from theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/asmr/
Written by: Will Koziey-Kronas
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This post brought to you by ASMR University.  A site with the mission of increasing the awareness, understanding, and research of the Art and Science of Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response.

One thought on “Student journalist writes an insider profile of the journey and perspectives of the ASMR artist, theASMRnerd.

  1. I’m beginning to wonder if what I experience isn’t the ASMR people are commonly talking about here.

    For me there is no “tingle”. It is purely an inner feeling, and it feels like the brain has calmed to a nice sine wave of calm and peace. It is unintentionally encountered, and it cannot be fully triggered with any ASMR video I’ve seen. Real people are in my vicinity when I experience the full blown experience I always called “the hum”.

    The only video that has partially triggered me is watching Baba the cosmic barber on Youtube. I would say it is about 1/3 the intensity of real world experiences. No “ASMR video” has done a thing to me.

    In my mind, the concept of watching a video to experience this, is odd and falls short. If what I experience is a form of ASMR, then studying people watching a video would be similar to studying people watching porn to understand the emotional and physical attributes of a person having sex. That is purely an analogy, not trying to say ASMR has anything to do with sex, just that the test tube in the current science of ASMR might be holding the echo rather than the real thing.

    If ASMR is linked with infant experiences of being in the care of one’s mother, it is rather sad to hear of someone’s memory of being loved when young was watching Mr. Rogers on TV.

    Let’s think about this carefully. What if the TV/computer/screen was never invented. What if we were citizens on North Sentinel Island (people still isolated from the modern world)? Would ASMR exist? Step away from the technology and learn about the people involved. Youtube might have helped people share a common experience by chance, but it isn’t where the phenomena exists. Unless the phenomena is really a pop culture one, which might be the perspective of the majority of people who have never experienced ASMR/the hum.

    Like

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