The long tail effect and the logic of networked communities has enabled internet users to organise themselves in new ways. Unrecognized by modern medicine or science, ASMR has nevertheless emerged and grown from casual discussions in online threads into the expansive and growing community we see today (Hudson 2015; Anderson 2004). Scientists haven’t yet provided many answers about ASMR and the phenomenon hasn’t really been subject to any sort of rigorous study, meaning that the how and why surrounding it go largely unanswered (Roy 2013). Yet the nature of the internet has empowered communities to undergo processes of self-analysis, self-reflection, and knowledge sharing – essentially everything currently understood about ASMR came about through the sharing of anecdotes and audience feedback. It is a kind of ‘subjugated knowledge’ built upon a process of autonomous, theoretical, non-centralized production, the validity of which is not dependent on the approval of established regimes of thought (Foucault 1980, cited in Bock 2015). Steven Novella, a neuroscientist and assistant professor at the Yale University School of Medicine, described this process in regards to ASMR, saying:
“Human communication has been increased to the point that people who have what they think are unique personal experiences can find each other, eventually bringing the phenomenon to general awareness, giving it a name and an internet footprint.” (Novella 2012)
Regardless of how it is treated and understood within ASMR communities, the phenomenon itself is yet to be acknowledged and understood within a scientific context. But whilst this means that caution and good judgement should be exercised when making medical decisions based on information relating to ASMR, it does not make the phenomena or the anecdotal evidence shared by the community invalid. As Stafford (in Micro Mart 2016) acknowledges:
“It might well be a real thing, but it’s inherently difficult to research. The inner experience is the point of a lot of psychological investigation, but when you’ve got something like this that you can’t see or feel and it doesn’t happen for everyone, it falls into a blind spot. It’s like synaesthesia — for years it was a myth, then in the 1990s people came up with a reliable way of measuring it.”
There are many important phenomena involved in human functioning that remain unnoticed, misunderstood, not applied, or are yet to attract the academic interest of the scientific community (del Campo and Kehle 2016). The internet exposes these shortcomings in the scientific and academic processes, providing opportunities for subjugated (or ‘folk’) knowledge about apparently private experience to be constructed collaboratively. As the previously rigid boundaries between credible and questionable knowledge becomes increasingly blurred, opportunities open up for new voices carrying different types of knowledge that have tended to go unrecognized as credible within academic institutions (Bock 2015). In the case of ASMR, this apparently shared experience has acquired an ontological and communicative status, forming the basis for community through common language, terminology, and tropes. The term ‘ASMR’ itself is an example of this. Coined in February 2010 by a significant contributor to the ASMR community named Jennifer Allen, Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response was suggested as a term that clinically described the features of the phenomenon as it was currently understood (Dr. Richard 2016).
“After reading the comments of others, I realized people would never be able to open up about what they were experiencing unless it could be discussed in a way that was objective, not tied to emotional or deeply personal terminology, and not suggesting aspects that were not in line with their personal experience” (Allen, cited in Dr. Richard 2016).
Although formalized separately to scientific investigation, the choice of clinical, “scientific” language does betray a certain desire for legitimacy within the ASMR community. Kirner (2015) observed the reconstruction of modern druidry, following its destruction at the hands of Christianity, as a process informed by the scientific epistemology and Western capitalist economic and legal structures that form the foundation of a modern global context. There are parallels that can be drawn between ASMR knowledge and the folk ecological knowledge of modern druidry. Both focus on experimental learning and qualitative variables, rather than quantitative data analysis, yet both encourage personal engagement with contemporary Western science on some level (Kirner 2015). At least one large scale ASMR research project is underway in conjunction with Jennifer Allen, Karissa Burnett from the Fuller School of Psychology, and professor at Shenandoah University School of Pharmacy Craig Richard that has attracted over 20 000 responses at last count in January 2017 (Dr. Richard 2017).
Like modern druidry and folk science systems, ASMR also engages in certain conventions of spirituality, mysticism, and new age, internal well-being (Kirner 2015; Micro Mart 2016). Although sometimes engaged with on a shallow level as a flavour to contextualize the ASMR experiences triggered, there are countless videos like the ones shown below that cater to users seeking more ephemeral, spiritual experiences.
Anderson, C 2004 ‘The Long Tail’, Wired, 10 January, viewed 1 March 2017 <https://www.wired.com/2004/10/tail/>
Barratt, EL and Davis, NJ 2015, ‘Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR): a flow-like mental state’, Dahlem M (ed.), PeerJ, 3, e851, viewed 2 June 2016 <http://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.851>
Bock, S 2015, ‘’Grappling to Think Clearly’: Vernacular Theorizing in Robbie McCauley’s Sugar’, Journal Of Medical Humanities, 36, 2, pp. 127-139, Psychology and Behavioral Sciences Collection, EBSCOhost, viewed 1 March 2017.
Dr. Richard 2016, ‘Interview with Jennifer Allen, the woman who coined the term, ‘Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response’ (ASMR)’, ASMR University, 17 May, viewed 1 March 2017 <https://asmruniversity.com/2016/05/17/jennifer-allen-interview-coined-asmr/>
Dr. Richard 2017, ‘ASMR Research Project’, ASMR University, viewed 1 March 2017 <https://asmruniversity.com/asmr-survey/>
Hudson, L 2015, ‘The brain-tingling world of ASMR collides with science fiction’, Offworld, 29 April, viewed 2 June 2016 <http://boingboing.net/2015/04/29/asmr-ally-scifi-departure.html>
Kirner, KD 2015, ‘Pursuing the Salmon of Wisdom: The Sacred in Folk Botanical Knowledge Revival among Modem Druids’, Journal For The Study Of Religion, Nature & Culture, 9, 4, pp. 448-482, Religion and Philosophy Collection, EBSCOhost, viewed 1 March 2017 <http://eds.b.ebscohost.com/eds/viewarticle/render?data=dGJyMPPp44rp2%2fdV0%2bnjisfk5Ie46bBRs6e2TLek63nn5Kx94um%2bSq2otkewpq9Pnqm4Srews0mexss%2b8ujfhvHX4Yzn5eyB4rOvTbaut0y0p7BJpOLfhuWz44ak2uBV8OLmPvLX5VW%2fxKR57LOvSbGosUu2p7Y%2b5OXwhd%2fqu4ji3MSN6uLSffbqpH%2fz2%2fGMu8rwjeMA&vid=27&sid=9e56b75a-f63a-45c3-979a-6ce7e3063539@sessionmgr120&hid=120>
Micro Mart 2016, ‘ASMR Explaining The PHENOMENON’ 2016, Micro Mart, 1398, p. 86, MasterFILE Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 2 June 2016 <http://eds.b.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.uow.edu.au/eds/detail/detail?sid=b2d32e14-c1eb-46bc-a677-4be20472a474%40sessionmgr107&vid=0&hid=120&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWRzLWxpdmU%3d#AN=112573442&db=f6h>
Novella, S 2012, ‘ASMR’, NeuroLogica Blog, 12 March, viewed 2 June 2016 <http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/asmr/>