I am sitting at my desk in a nearly empty office on a December evening, feeling the sort of directionless melancholy that tends to take hold as the holiday season sets in, listening to a video of a gentle Russian woman whispering in my ear about how much she cares about my relaxation.
“You are appreciated,” she says, making scratching noises into a microphone so it sounds like she’s scratching my head. “I would like to protect you, to comfort you, to help you relax and forget about your trouble, whatever it is.”
I’ve got to be honest, it feels like a pretty weird and lonely thing to do.
But the video doesn’t work on me the way it’s supposed to. For many of her fans, Maria’s voice causes a sensation the Internet has dubbed ASMR—autonomous sensory meridian response. Those who get ASMR describe the experience as a tingling inside their heads, or a head rush. Sometimes the sensation extends down their backs or limbs. It’s often referred to as a brain-gasm, but counterintuitively, it’s also supposed to be relaxing, a mellow feeling. Some people watch the videos to help them sleep at night. And even without the tingles, it is sort of relaxing, if you can get past the dissonance of someone whispering in your ear while you scroll through Twitter in your cubicle, or whatever.
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