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The ambivalence of technology in ASMR experiences – do YouTube videos help or hinder to establish intimacy?

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ASMR, short for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, refers to a physiological sensory reaction most commonly described as “a tingling, static-like sensation” (Barratt & Davis, 2015, p. 1). ASMR is also the name of a socially embedded and technically-mediated phenomenon on YouTube dedicated to creating videos with auditory and visual stimuli in order to make the listeners/viewers ‘tingle’, relax and feel at ease. As an online, digital phenomenon, ASMR has become more and more present and widespread within the last couple of years, and today more than 31 million results appear when searching for ‘ASMR’ on YouTube (Google Search, 2019). And it seems to be caused by supply and demand, as from 2012 and onwards, the number of searches for ‘ASMR’ on Google’s services has skyrocketed (Google Trends, 2019). This paper will examine and discuss technologically-mediated ASMR in regard to whether or not technology can be said to help or hinder what ASMR is allegedly good for; helping people who are struggling with e.g. loneliness, insomnia, anxiety, depression, stress, migraine, chronic pain, and PTSD (as several articles and ASMR users are claiming – see e.g. Breth Klausen, 2016; Andersen, 2014; Poerio, 2016; Poerio et al., 2018). Despite its explosive growth and remaining nature, little research has been devoted to ASMR so far. The majority of published articles on the phenomenon are dealing with psychological and/or neuroscientific aspects of ASMR examining phenomena related to ASMR such as mindfulness, synesthesia, frisson and misophonia (see e.g. Fredborg et al., 2018; Barratt & Davis, 2015; del Campo & Kehle, 2016; McErlean & Banissy, 2018). However, few articles have discussed ASMR in relation to notions of intimacy, performance, digital aesthetics, care and our evermore intimate relationship with networked devices (Manon, 2018; Poerio, 2016; Bennett, 2016; Andersen, 2014; Gallagher, 2016; 2018; Iossifidis, 2016; Smith & Snider, in press; Breth Klausen, in review). Building on the thoughts of these, this paper will discuss concepts of (non)interaction, (levels of) immersion, (mediated) intimacy, para-sociality (cf. Horton & Wohl, 1956), performative realism (cf. Jerslev & Gade, 2005; Senft, 2008) and ‘social audio-grooming’ (cf. Breth Klausen & Have, in review) in relation to selected video cases and user comments on YouTube, in which these concepts are in play. On a more specific level, the paper will discuss the use and notion of the pronoun ‘you’ in ASMR videos, arguing how the imaginary ‘you’ on one hand can be viewed as a vehicle for creating and making visible an inevitable distance between content creator and user – and on the other hand allowing the user to watch an ASMR video, feeling addressed and embraced, while being able to relax without having to account for social interactions. This discussion will lead to questions such as: Do we lose something along the mediatization (cf. Hjarvard, 2008) of ASMR? And what happens when the digitally native version of ASMR goes offline?
Original languageEnglish
Publication year2019
Publication statusPublished - 2019
EventNordMedia 2019: Communication, Creativity and Imagination: Challenging the Field. - Malmö University, Malmö, Sweden
Duration: 21 Aug 201923 Aug 2019


ConferenceNordMedia 2019
LocationMalmö University
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