Finding peace in a whisper campaign: Life Hacks by Charles Assisi

Jul 27, 2023 11:11 PM IST

ASMR videos have gone beyond soft sounds to include roleplay, storytelling. I’m intrigued by the comfort and sense of community they foster among young people.

This piece is being written to the sounds of a head massage most Indian men are familiar with from visits to the salon — oil being dabbed, slaps being delivered, cricks in the neck being straightened out. The man going about his work was introduced to me as Anil Cakmak, an ASMR barber. It certainly feels comforting, sort of like getting a massage; even though Anil is in Turkey and I’m just on his YouTube channel.

(From left) Anil Cakmak is an ASMR barber. Gibi talks of “nothing important enough to stay awake for”… “I do love looking at the moon”. PREMIUM
(From left) Anil Cakmak is an ASMR barber. Gibi talks of “nothing important enough to stay awake for”… “I do love looking at the moon”.

If someone had told me I’d be doing this, even a few months ago, I would have laughed in their face. But here I am. Here’s why.

My daughters make it a point to remind me, every other day, that I’m now “an over-the-hill kind of person”, which is infuriating. The upside, amid their chatter on this theme, is that I get deep insight into the lives of a generation that has grown up in a world unrecognisable from the one I was raised in. From time to time, I learn of things I hadn’t imagined existed.

One of these is the evolving world of ASMR therapy. It has long been known that humans derive a visceral pleasure from certain sounds. This scientifically proven but still-unexplained phenomenon is called the Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR). But, as I am now learning, ASMR therapy goes far beyond the Reels of people crunching, crinkling and whispering. For one thing, young people like my daughters are administering ASMR therapy to each other, as a way to bond, de-stress and relax.

When one of them offered to show me how it works, I accepted. She had me sit in a chair, ensuring I was comfortable; then asked if I would like a head massage. It sounded too good to be true. Indeed, it was. After setting it up, all I got were the sounds of a good head massage and some banter, “as if you’re at the local barber shop”.

Every once a while, my daughter would ask if I was feeling good. It took me a while to admit that I was; that the approach of using such sound to evoke sensation does have the promised effects.

Online, of course, the most popular ASMR videos feature people eating (in a subcategory called mukbang, which originated as young South Koreans sought some company online in their lonely lunch hour), crinkling paper, brushing hair. The gentle noises help slow the heart rate and relax the muscles. For lonely young people, it’s a little company when they need it. In their increasingly fast-paced and stressful world, it offers comfort and escape.

ASMR appeals to young people looking for a sense of belonging and community, states a study by researchers from Germany and the Netherlands, published in the journal Experimental Brain Research last May. That study found that 67% of ASMR viewers are under the age of 35. Other studies put the average age much lower.

Finding the best new videos, and identifying up-and-coming ASMR stars “before they get really big”, is a form of bonding among her friends in the real world, my daughter tells me. Since ASMR can be anything, the possibilities are endless. Rising stars of today introduce elements of roleplay and storytelling into their posts.

My daughter lists, among her favourite, artists such as Stephanie Soo, a South Korean-American with over 3 million followers on YouTube, who talks about murder mysteries while eating. When she needs to relax, my daughter says, she turns to Gibi, an American with over 4.6 million subscribers, who rambles and chats in soft whispers (“Nothing important enough to stay awake for”… “I do love looking at the moon”).

I must admit I could never have imagined such a career as these content creators have crafted; let alone imagined the multiple markets for such stars. Many are going on to build careers as models, actors, singers. Some then down the shutters on their YouTube channels, never to return. Others return to their original fans regularly, to whisper about the moon.

It can be quite enlightening, peeking out at this ever-changing world from over the hill.

(Charles Assisi is co-founder at Founding Fuel & co-author of The Aadhaar Effect)

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