ASMR (Autonomous sensory meridian response) is a tingly sensation not unlike “warm fuzzies” that certain people get when they witness relaxing behaviors: the sound and sight of someone absentmindedly folding and unfolding a candy wrapper. A mother gently running her fingers through her son’s hair. These activities might be vaguely relaxing to many, but in a person with ASMR they actually create a physical tingling sensation that begins in the neck and spreads to the head and even arms.
My first memories of experiencing ASMR are from church when I was a little girl. Bored out of my mind, I sought out some good people-watching to get me through the hour. I guess I experienced my own version of a holy experience: I saw a dad giving his toddler son a belly rub to fall asleep. It made me giggle, internally, because I don’t think I could fall asleep with someone tickling my belly. But I also felt those tingly warm fuzzies.
Throughout my life, I’ve experienced the tingles when watching The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross; while speaking to someone with a particularly relaxing manner (most notably, the musician Nelly McKay left a voice mail for me when I worked in the music industry – I embarrassingly listened to that message several times before deleting it); and while watching people browse merchandise when I worked at a record store.
My theory is that a person with ASMR might have more mirror neurons so they can feel a sensation without actually being the one to physically experience it. People often psychoanalyze that the gentle whispering in ASMR videos is popular because viewers are nostalgic for their mothers’ nurturing touch. But for me, the reason many ASMRtists whisper is totally sensory: I can almost feel the swipe of a whispered ‘s’ sound as if it were a fingertip across my skin.
I was pleasantly surprised to hear that my husband, who doesn’t get ASMR tingles, also enjoys watching ASMR videos. He still finds the sounds and sensations to be relaxing. I found this totally confounding, because if you don’t get the tingles, ASMR videos are mind-numbingly mundane.
But then it occurred to me that there is something psychological about my love of ASMR, and it’s not the nurturing aspect, but it does originate from my childhood. It’s the slow deliberation with which an ASMRtist arranges her jewelry collection, rambling on about it for an hour as if time doesn’t even exist. My favorite ASMRtist, The Water Whispers Ilsa, recounts vignettes from her childhood, like the types of straws she used to like or how she enjoyed submerging her whole hand into a container of birdseed, just for the relaxing sensation. She can showcase her collection of batteries from Costco and ramble on happily about how often she changes them, and I’m totally absorbed.
In our overwhelming heart attack of a culture, it’s a breath of fresh air to catch a good 20-minute chunk of absolutely nothing. I actually crave being bored. Yet it’s much easier to “actively” watch a video than just sit there and stare at a wall. It’s like space in my mind. With a job and two young children, I haven’t had the time to focus on anything other than fires to be put out, the totally essential or instant gratification in years.
Being bored is one of the single most defining conditions from my childhood. That’s when I became the person I am today. I’m trying to create a world where my children can be bored, and I dearly hope they can experience the zen of the mundane.
So today’s idea is simply naming the culture of the mundane: mundanecore.