Now Media: The ASMR Phenomenon — A Discussion With “the Gentle Whisperer”

Written by Internet, Popdose Interviews

Now Media digs into the new landscape of entertainment, from YouTube videos to websites devoted to offbeat topics.

NOWWith widespread acceptance of Internet media content, forms of televised programming and communication are occurring that can make sense only on this newer platform. It took a platform like YouTube’s and other user-provided content venues to offer these sorts of programs. Genre-specific music reviews, gamer videos, “unboxing” videos, and fast food reviews to name but a few, all with very unique and niche aspects to them have found a home on the Internet. Popdose’s Now Media takes a look at some of the individuals who are using these tools in innovative and noteworthy ways.

The sensation known currently as ASMR is one that many people have experienced before…a tingle that seems to reverberate across the skull and into the spine, triggered by soft voices and noises, often with the sound of close-contact noises from the mouth and teeth. Such deep-attention sounds are integral to the auditory hypnosis process, and often are employed in a relaxation therapy regimen. These effects are not, however, high on the list of saleable points to commercial television broadcasters.

They aren’t without precedent though. ASMR videos follow in the tradition of several PBS how-to series that triggered the same audio-sensory responses, most notably the Joy of Painting series hosted by painter Bob Ross.

These videos have generated a lot of interest with a steadily-growing viewership, as well as its own controversies. To dig deeper into the phenomenon, into what the creators of this content intend for it to be, and perhaps uncover some of the false perception behind it as well, Popdose spoke with Maria, also known as “the Gentle Whisperer.” Maria’s videos have found a responsive audience — so much so, in fact, that she has been profiled on news broadcasts from her hometown in Maryland, and in other media outlets.

I think more people have experienced the phenomenon and associated sensations being called “ASMR” than actually know there’s now a term that categorizes it. To start off, can you describe what ASMR is for the readers who are wondering what all this means?

ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. It is a pleasurable feeling that can be triggered by audio or visual stimuli and creates a tingling feeling that starts in your head and can progress throughout your body. While you are experiencing this many people will find themselves in a very relaxed state.

These videos can be pretty long, often longer than a half hour, and they’re usually composed of little more than someone talking and interacting with objects. Part of the “brain tingle” seems to be triggered by audio stimuli from tactile response (nails on objects, tapping, or soft sounds of movement). This would never work as a program — not on cable and certainly not on broadcast television. First, what do you think about this whole new media landscape that allows for such kinds of programs to be available?

I think it is great that we have a platform that allows us to recreate situations that may trigger someone’s response. Many times these situations are dealing with personal attention or role playing, and through the internet we can engage the viewer to almost feel as this is actually happening. I am also excited about the realm of virtual reality and how ASMR can work with it. Myself, Ally from ASMR Requests and Heather Feather are involved with a company, Pixelwhipt, that is merging the two genres together to offer full immersive content.

Second, do you think part of the attraction to not just ASMR videos but others like collection tours, item unboxing, etc., are a reaction to the regular fast pace of most audio-visual programming?

I believe that people today lead such busy and hectic lives. Many times they just want to wind down and these videos offer that. The attention to detail that you might find in an unboxing or tour video could trigger your response because that person is effectively showing you in great detail something as simple as opening an item for the first time. Detail and intention are triggers for a lot of people.

There is a range of how much or little detail is in an ASMR video. Some are just people talking. Others have interactions (with books, fabric, other objects to get the brushing/clicking sounds). Still others are much more involved. What I’ve noticed with the Gentle Whispering videos is there seems to be a lot of homework in them, or at least it appears there has been a lot of research done. How far into these subjects do you look into to prepare, or are you improv riffing mostly?

For the majority of my videos I do spend quite some time with research and rehearsing. I am trying to convey my intention and realism through the screen so I want it to be as accurate as possible. Many times I will prepare for a video for weeks in advance. Sometimes these videos will get published other times I will place them on the back burner for the time being. Mostly role plays will take the longest and my vlog videos will be much more improv’d.

Another thing about the ASMR reaction that is curious is that it goes away. After a certain period of time, if you have watched one of these programs on multiple occasions, you no longer feel the effects. Is that because of familiarity and the brain anticipates what sounds are coming next, which counteracts the effect?

Perhaps, once we have some more solid research done on this phenomenon hopefully we can answer that. My best guess is that as with anything in excess the appeal or reaction can be dulled or diminished.

From what I have read about you, you are a Russian emigre, and you regularly do videos in both English and Russian. This is not one of the more common tracks to celebrity. How did you get from there to here to YouTube?

I originally came here through Linguistic University hoping to land a job as a translator. Long story short, I ended up taking a different path through clerical work and during a time when I was feeling depressed I searched YouTube for relaxing content to help combat my sadness. There I stumbled upon “whisper videos” as they were originally known and began watching them. These videos helped me so much I decided to give back in a way and started my own channel.

Were you surprised by the response to your initial videos?

I have always received positive feedback from viewers and that is why I love to create content. It is amazing when I hear from someone who has been helped through these videos.

There is always a dark side to everything, it seems. A situation that not only you but almost all ASMR video makers face is the unwanted attention of viewers who get too wrapped up in these products. Most of the video makers post under just a first name or a pseudonym altogether to avoid harassment. Do you think this is something unique to these types of videos because the whispering signals a false sense of intimacy, or is it just the nature of YouTube celebrity in general?

I think it is mostly a part of being online now a days. People always have an interest to know more about the people they are watching and for many privacy is very important. ASMR videos tend to be more intimate because you are trying to create that scenario, so sometimes viewers can misconstrue that as more.

Are there misperceptions about these videos that you feel compelled to push back against?

The biggest is probably that these videos are viewed by some as sexual in nature. While that is not the majority of content creators intention, some have began to publish more provocative videos. Once again we are trying to create an intimate environment with the viewer, not one of sexual intimacy, but rather one that is based on caring, trust and peace. You can’t control how viewers interpret your content but it is never my intention to sexualize it.

Do you have a long-term goal beyond this, perhaps something more mainstream (for lack of a better term), or are you enjoying what this is for however long you choose to do it? Curious about if this is meant as a stepping stone to something else, or is this it’s own venture from start to finish?

I am really enjoying where I am, yet and am excited to see where ASMR will end up in the next few years. The project I mentioned before with Pixelwhipt, is also very interesting because the world of virtual reality is also in it’s beginning stages much like ASMR. Perhaps the future will be more immersive content, or maybe once more research is done it could possibly be implemented as a sort of side therapy. I have enjoyed watching the community grow and can’t wait to see what is on the horizon.

Maria’s GentleWhispering YouTube channel can be found by clicking here.