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ASMR = EESEE (Engaging Extra Sensory Event Experiences)

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Have you, like me, ever listened to someone talk and not want them to stop? Not necessarily because of what they were saying but rather HOW they were saying it. It might have been the slow, deliberate pacing of their speech, the softness of their voice or (in my case) their overemphasis on the letter “g” in the word “good” (don’t judge). These people could literally be talking about the most mundane subject imaginable yet the feeling that would overcome you as you listened to them would be one of absolute euphoria, a kind of “tingly” sensation that you could actually feel on your skin.

If you’ve never experienced this, you probably think I’m crazy and have already stopped reading. If you have, however, don’t worry. You’re not alone. It turns out that not only are there millions of others like you around the world, but there’s an actual term for your so-called “condition”. It’s Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (or ASMR for short). Wikepedia defines it as :

“an experience characterised by a static-like or tingling sensation on the skin that typically begins on the scalp and moves down the back of the neck and upper spine…and is most commonly triggered by specific acoustic, visual and digital media stimuli”.

That last trigger could help explain the explosion of ASMR-focused videos on YouTube over the last little while, featuring everything from grown men whisper-counting paperclips to more elaborate role-play scenarios involving doctor visits or re-interpreted scenes from popular films (there’s a “Titanic”-inspired one of Rose confessing her feelings for Jack to her handmaid that is absolutely priceless).

My own introduction to ASMR pre-dates YouTube by several decades and involved the man who, either purposely or inadvertently (there is much debate on this) first evoked these “tingly” sensations from his “Joy of Painting” PBS television audience. Often called the Father of ASMR, Bob Ross is known by many as the iconic, bushy-haired, ‘70’s hipster who loved to paint. To me, he was hypnotic and one of my few sources of genuine calm in a family with 5 older siblings. Curled up on our living room couch, I remember melting at the sound of his calming, baritone voice as he thwacked his brush against the canvas with little rolls of phthalo blue paint to create picturesque skies.

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Ever since then, I’ve been somewhat secretive of my predisposition to this type of external stimuli – viewing it as private – bordering on hedonistic – and not altogether…normal. In fact, it was only until recently with my discovery of the aforementioned volumes of ASMR-dedicated videos found online that I slowly started to open up to others about my proclivity, including my wife who calls it “audio porn” which, I suppose, is as apt a descriptor as any despite the complete absence of sexual content. However, despite my newfound openness on the topic buoyed by the countless other ASMR-heads like me out there – as evidenced by the hundreds of millions of views garnered by ASMR-related videos – I continued to think of it as little more than a fringe community consisting of lone silos. By that, I mean that I viewed ASMR as, by its very nature, so subjective and “against the grain” that it precluded itself from moving beyond a solely individualistic experience (person-to-YouTube video) to anything even remotely resembling a shared multi-user event experience.

Or so I thought.

Of the several ASMR content creators I currently follow on YouTube, one in particular – Emma (aka WhispersRed ASMR) – recently took it upon herself to try to leverage her prominence in the online ASMR community to push the medium into the mainstream in a way that had never been attempted before – by creating a large-scale, full-fledged ASMR-focused event.

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As important as YouTube was in providing a platform for ASMR awareness and content, it also served, according to Emma, as a deterrent to ASMR participants from taking that next step and actually interacting face-to-face with fellow ASMRists. For Emma, the joy of reading body cues and feeling other people’s energy in a non-judgemental, ASMR-friendly physical setting could not be replicated via a YouTube video. Emma believed that live events represented the natural progression for the ASMR community and on April 29th of this year, she rented out The Courtyard Theatre in London, England to put her theory to the test in the form of an event aptly titled “ASMR Happens Live 2017” – an intimate and interactive one-woman ASMR show in which she acted out various ASMR triggers onstage to a crowd of several hundred eagerly awaiting “Tingleheads”.

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Although a full recording of the event itself has yet to be made available, what follows is a fascinating YouTube account of that evening from the viewpoint of Emma herself.

Emma’s postmortem of ASMR Happens Live 2017

In the video, which is interspersed with snippets of actual event footage, Emma recounts some of the biggest challenges in pulling off an event of this type. Some of the more traditional ones such as venue selection, lighting, budgetary restrictions and layout will seem as though second nature to the average event planner. Others however are downright live event heresy. For instance, how do you:

– suppress the natural buzz of live event attendee excitement to create an atmosphere of zen-like calm conducive to receiving ASMR stimuli in an auditorium packed with hundreds of people?
– enforce smiling as a replacement for audience clapping?
– make “tingly” acts such as hair-brushing and finger tapping captivating to a live audience over the span of several hours?
– as the lone presenter and provider of ASMR stimuli for the evening – short of using mild hallucinogens – achieve a state of complete relaxation necessary for transmitting ASMR stimuli while battling severe butterflies and stage fright yourself?

Emma’s emotional journey producing “ASMR Happens Live 2017” serves – if nothing else – as a fascinating case study of someone trying to get a large scale event off the ground (to varying degrees of success). Personally however, I find it so much more than that. In pushing ASMR beyond the pixelated confines of laptop screens and onto a live stage, Emma has not only helped to shed the stigma around the medium but perhaps, of greater consequence, tapped into a new form of live event entertainment that awakens and engages the senses of attendees in a wholly unique way.

Just as a comedy show elicits an endorphin-fueled sense of happiness amongst its laughing club denizens, a live ASMR show elicits real and pleasurable sensations in its attendees on an even deeper, almost sub-conscious level. Indeed, it would be interesting to see how elements of the medium could be incorporated into the programs of non-ASMR events – both live and digital. For instance, imagine a dedicated ASMR lounge at a tradeshow where those attendees so inclined could slip away for a few minutes to decompress from the hustle of the show floor. Or perhaps a virtual ASMR session hosted by a well-known YouTube ASMR celebrity conducted during an online event which would not only serve as a welcome change from the traditional Muzak one typically hears in between digital event sessions but could potentially increase the stickiness of the event as a whole and prevent unengaged users from dropping off in between online seminars. Now throw virtual and augmented reality technology into the mix and the potential to magnify an already intensely immersive multi-sensory experience such as ASMR takes on whole new possibilities.

In an era where attendees are placing more of a premium on unique and engaging event experiences, one can easily envision an expanding role for ASMR content creators and their growing legions of “tingleheads” worldwide.