ASMR: The Secret Tingle
Imagine that you are five years old. You are sitting on the end of a couch opposite your older sister, who is chatting away to a friend on the phone. This takes place in a time before wireless phones, so she is wrapping the coiled cord around her finger absentmindedly. When it reaches her nail, she slowly uses her other hand to unravel it, then starts the whole process again. The entire time you have been reading a book, not paying very much attention, but then, suddenly, something begins to happen.
A strange, tingling dart of sensation appears in the crown of your head. It runs all the way down the back of your skull past your neck, and seems to pool up between your shoulder blades. Then, like a struck match on a kerosene trail, the entire path it made explodes with a powerful rush, tightening your skin, and showering you with something that can only be described as euphoric goose-bumps. It happens in a flash, and then, just as suddenly as it had arrived, the feeling is gone.
Now you are really interested. You put your book down and give your full attention to your sister’s subconsciously moving hands. Within seconds, you are overcome with a second wave of the new-found sensory reaction. This time, it starts from your shoulders and travels up to the top of your head. Patiently, you continue watching, and a third wave finally arrives, followed by a forth, a five, and a sixth. Mesmerized, you focus on the chord, trying to figure out what it is, exactly, that is causing this sensation. Is it the soft crinkling sound that the plastic cord creates? Is it the slow, constant pattern of your sibling’s speech?
You aren’t really sure, but after a few more minutes your sister is finished with her conversation. She gets up, hangs the phone on the cradle, and then leaves the room. The tingles have subsided, so you go over and examine the coiled cord, repeating the same motions that your older sibling just performed. Alas, it is to no avail. The wonderful sensation won’t come back no matter what you do.
On the brighter side of things, it is not the last time you will feel it. Over the course of your life, several seemingly unrelated ‘triggers’ will randomly appear, giving you, for at least a few minutes, those delightful sensations.
The scenario above is a true story from my childhood, and as I have discovered, it is hardly different from the stories of multitudes around the world. Since the Internet became a common household staple, people have begun to emerge and discuss this anomaly, which has taken on several names but is most widely known as ‘Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response’, or ASMR, for short.
At reddit.com, the ASMR posting wall is subscribed to by over 36,000 people. On youtube.com, dozens of users have begun to create and post ‘role-play’ videos, in which they act out specific ASMR triggers. To date, the most popular trigger video has had over 1.5 million views. These numbers are going up every day, and while the exact number of individuals who share this odd neural reaction is uncertain, we are beginning to get a small idea of just how widespread it is.
Scientific research, however, is currently at a stand-still for this particular sensory anomaly, mainly for one simple reason: in our westernized world, ASMR is not important enough to look into. The effects of ASMR, while highly pleasant, are not currently replicable, and they pose no threat to our financial, economic, or medical well-being.
So what does this have to do with the Simulet community? Everything.
ASMR is an anomaly in our sense programming, but it won’t always have to remain that way. The boundaries and definitions of reality are shifting, and with it, so are we. Computers are advancing so exponentially that we will, in the not so distant future, be able to converse with them as we would a fellow Human. They also have a very unique trait that Humans have barely began to adapt to their potential: unlimited access to, and organization of, information via the Internet, coupled with what we might call precise logic.
If such an algorithm of a computer’s ‘smart thinking’ is coupled with our abilities and questions, several possibilities could be the result. Below are listed a few hypotheses that I have pondered on myself.
1.) Research will reach a new level. Information and tools that were once only available to specific learning or investigative institutions will be far more accessible to the public. We are already seeing signs of this all across the web (ie. BioBricks).
2.) The computer will act as a neurologist, and not only diagnose the cause of the euphoric tingling, but will develop (with Humans, or independently) a way to invoke the same sensation in individuals who have not naturally developed ASMR. This could potentially be used in medicine to aid depression, anxiety, or even individuals with autism.
3.) The computer will become self-aware, and establish software and synthetic neurons for itself simply to enjoy the tingling without cessation. After a short while, all the computers of the world will become hopeless ASMR addicts, and every second of their processing will be dedicated to discovering new triggers.
Of course, I’m only joking about the last one, but it is a fun (and highly unlikely) theory to entertain.
ASMR is a widespread variable that is gaining awareness and attention rapidly. As we progress into the future, I imagine that we have only seen the first glimpse of the ‘tingle anomaly’, and I am interested to see how it will develop in the reality of individual persons. If you experience ASMR, how do you think it will evolve in yours? And if you have never experienced it, do you think that with the technology of the next decade, you could?