What is the Future of ASMR?

As of this posting, the first ASMR video was made over six years ago, in late March of 2009. Obama had just been sworn into office two months earlier; the threat of Swine flu loomed over America, and Michael Jackson still had six months to live. It’s amazing to see how the world abroad and the world of ASMR have changed in that time.

By 2015, ASMR’s top ten videos have gathered over 64,473,932 million views on YouTube. Not bad numbers for a movement that has been, up until recently, a secret fascination for many people. In the five years since Whisperinglife posted ‘Whisper 1 – hello!’ ASMR has attracted the attention of the scientific community, the attention of celebrities such as Ashton Kutcher and Deadmau5. Fans of ASMR and ASMRtists alike have created a thriving online community, of which this website is a part of. Also, in those five years, millions found relaxation, calm and relief from maladies such as insomnia, anxiety and panic attacks.

So what will we do with the next ninety four years? By 2109, when our great-great grandchildren — and maybe even ourselves — go to whatever Wikipedia has evolved into and look up ASMR, what will we see? What milestones will have come and gone? How will ASMR have changed? Will ASMR still be produced almost a century from now?

Speculation is fun, but it suffers from two problems: Time, and bias. Start making  enough predictions about the future and eventually the narrative you are creating will be forced to balance itself on the chain of events you are in the act of creating. It will become removed from our reality and become its own. The other is bias. I’ll admit mine now: I want ASMR to expand beyond what we have now. I want to see it become a household name. I want to see Gentlewhispering interviewed on national television. I want everyone with a pair of headphones and a internet connection to know her name and what her and this community does.  I await the day ASMRrequests is tapped by Netflix to help helm an ASMR original series. And, at the risk of turning into Yogurt from Spaceballs, I want ASMR themed products.

But no flamethrowers. (maybe)

But I accept that it might not happen. Will there be an ASMR series on Netflix? Probably not, at least not from where I can see now. Maria being interviewed on a major TV news program? Likely, and it’ll probably be a daytime talk show, where a subject as light as this can find an audience. Will ASMR even be able to reach such a high level of popularity that makes product placement possible? It’s fifty-fifty. But for the sake of making things interesting, let’s imagine that it will.

So, in the spirit of Ray Kurzweil, Nostradamus and every sports fan at the beginning of a new season (COME ON EAGLES!!!) let’s take a look at six possible events, ranging from the present and into the deep future. Let’s dive in.

6. ASMR becomes popular on a global scale.

Possible Time Frame: (2015-2023?)

This is self-explanatory. The ASMR community keeps doing what it does best: creating ASMR content, talking about and spreading said content, and attracting the attention of more people outside the community, including the media. A producer at one of the big three news companes, CBS, NBC or ABC, decides to invite an ASMRtist onto a show. Most likely, due to the nature of ASMR, it’s not going to be World News Now, NBC Nightly News or any ‘serious’ program. Expect the Today Show or the View or Good Morning America.

Let’s assume the ASMRtist interviewed absolutely nails it. They convey the message of empathy, relaxation and unconditional love hidden in videos of girls doing your makeup and guys dressing up as zombies. ASMR’s popularity soars almost violently over the course of a few months. Suddenly, we’re one of the most popular genres on YouTube. Maybe we’re not on the same level as Pewdiepie, but we’re up there. The days of being ‘underground’ are gone. Millions of new viewers come in, and thousands of new ASMRtists blast into the field, bringing new ideas, and rehashing old ones. Many of these ASMRtists will come from established studios, such as Maker Studios, who is already raking in cash from the likes of Pewdiepie and Epic Rap Battles of History. As a result, many new artists will come to the table with big budgets, and studio level production values. Whether or not this will make any difference in terms of content is iffy. Do I really need C.G.I. dragons to make a good Game of Thrones Themed ASMR video?

High Production Values and ASMR

Departure Part’s 1 and 2 were incredible pieces of work, on all fronts. The Keys and its use of Stereoscopic technology pushed the envelope for what an ASMR video can be. Now imagine that kind of video, with a battery of professional C.G.I. artists and a full production team behind it. It’s a given that some ASMRtists will come into the field pushing videos that will give Departure and the Keys stiff competition. Maybe even make them look low-budget by comparison. May we see our current crop of ASMRtists pushed out by those with the bigger wallets or relegated to doing ‘natural’ ASMR? Will some create their own studios to keep their heads above water? Or maybe they’ll join the dark side and do what they love on someone else’s dime — and to their whims.

Advertising and Product-Driven ASMR

This is nothing new. Just go to your favorite ASMR makeover video and listen to the brands rattled off. Allmay, Maybelline, Revlon etc. Perfume videos are perhaps the worst offenders here. Listen to this one and count the times a company could have paid for their product to be mentioned. But it isn’t intentional. No one is being paid to push these products. They are literally the same ones the artists use in their own life. Will ASMR be impacted by advertisers using them to push the product of the week? Where does the use, utility, price and production methods of the product come in and intersect with the personal ethics of the ASMRtist and the possible studio that employs them? What if an ASMRtist is caught pushing a product that turns out to be bad? What then? How is that scandal weathered?

Coming to Terms with Trolls, Data Breaches, and Erotic ASMR

ASMR has its share of controversies right now. With ASMR being made a household name, those controversies will be amplified. Harassment of prominent ASMRtists, and the leaking of their private information is at the forefront. Especially so with ASMR being pushed out onto a global scale. When your face is on millions of screens, many will come after you, be they paparazzi or others much more sinister. Celebrity stalking is a common occurrence. Data breaches such as the ‘Fappening‘ and the recent Ashley Madison fiasco are becoming common. ASMRtists present and future will be dealing with this, and if ASMR is a brand name, doubly so.

It’s a scenario that even forces us to consider the (hopefully) near impossible, but real possibility of an ASMRtist losing life and limb to an attacker. There are only a handful of instances where a celebrity has been murdered by a fan. The most famous of these, at least in the U.S. is John Lennon being shot to death by Mark David Chapman in 1980. Most others get nowhere near close enough.

Another demon in the closet of ASMR is erotic ASMR. Love it, like it, or hate it, it is not going away. The big question is whether erotic ASMR, due to its inherently taboo nature, will overshadow traditional ASMR, heaping on undue controversy. This will come in blips at first, but I think the broader audience of ASMR, and deliberate attempts at separating ASMR and erotic ASMR will mitigate all wounds. Will erotic ASMR find big studio backers alongside its more prudish cousin? If the money and viewers are there, than yes. Trying to stop it will only mire the community in a battle no one will win, and eventually won’t matter. But will it still matter to some, very much so.

Welcome to the Golden Age

It’s obvious enough to almost not warrant mentioning. Right now, ASMR has a limited number of minds focused on it, and most of them, if not all can only do it part time. Most ASMRtists have jobs to worry about, families to consider, lives to be lived.  With thousands upon thousands of new ASMRtists entering the fray, we’ll see not just an uptick in production values, but in ideas, and people willing to experiment with these new ideas. They’ll do things we can’t imagine now, and maybe they’ll get famous for doing it.

As ASMR is brought out to a broader audience, budgets will go up, the dangers will increase, and issues within the community will be inflamed. But what will happen to the community in all this?

5. ASMR undergoes a major demographic shift.

Possible Time Frame: (2015-2109)

Think of the town you grew up in. Think of the general make-up of its population. If you’re a city guy like me, you’ll notice the influx of new immigrant groups; the changes in neighborhoods as generations pass away, economies dance up and down the flow charts, and crime waxes and wanes. This will happen to the ASMR community too. In a scenario where ASMR is made famous, the influx of viewers and artists will almost certainly have an impact on content. What matters here is what groups come in. Who is most likely to produce ASMR videos? From a rough outline of our current crop of ASMRtists it is mostly young women with a small, but just as famous population of men. Both groups range from between college age and the cusp of middle age.

That makeup has the potential to change. Your average ASMR video is cheap to make. All you need is a working camera, mic and a bit of imagination. Props can be assembled from things most ASMRtists already own. The most expensive things will be an upgraded microphone and camera, if you choose. The incredibly low startup cost, the potential for fame, will drive many people into ASMR, be it as a hobby or career.

Expect thousands of new ASMRtists to hit youtube. Most will blip out of existence after a few months. Say we get anywhere from 1,000 to 3,000 new channels. Those numbers might sound scary, but hear me out. Say we get 2,500 new ASMRtists trying to start their own channels. Say around 1,900 fizzle out after a year and a few months. that leaves us with 600 new channels, giving tingles to an audience of millions- a very diverse audience just by sheer numbers. Young and old, religious and non-religious, conservative and liberal, educated and uneducated.They’ll be logging in and dropping out to the sounds of tingles. ASMR will gain a bit of an older audience (35-55) if revealed on a show such as the View or the Today show. On shows like that, you reach those who might not hear about ASMR otherwise because they do not spend as much time on the computer and their main news source is the television.  The standards of ASMR: tapping, scratching, combing, etc will be enough for some, but not so much for others. The race for viewership (and potential advertising dollars) is now an arms race. The old adage of adapt, innovate or die suddenly becomes very real for many ASMRtists.

Most will adapt, sticking to old standards of ASMR: Tapping, scratching, tried and tested roleplays. Others will see the challenge laid out before them, and simply walk away. Fair enough. But watch those who innovate, either through technological achievement or on a much more bare-bones level. Those are the ones who will truly change the genre on its performance level.

4. ASMR divides into two camps.

Possible Time Frame: (2017-2035)

This is probably the closest ASMR will ever get to a civil war. The battle between ‘studio’ ASMRtists and ‘homegrown’ ASMRtists will likely spawn page after page of YouTube arguments, thousands of posts on Reddit and beyond. It’ll be the kind of ugly, class-driven, money-driven arguments that leave a bad taste in the mouths of most people. Who are the true ASMRtists? The ones who spread the tingles from the comfort of their homes with a small budget and without advertising deals and still ‘earn’ viewers? Or is it those who sit in air-conditioned studios with green screens and prop departments and sound departments and computers that can create almost anything? Is a Studio ASMRtist capable of the same empathy, compassion and love as someone working from home, or is it simply a matter of money? Is the work of the Homegrown ASMRtist worth more than that of a Studio ASMRtist by moral right?

Does this ‘war’ even matter? For some yes. Some will prefer a more natural approach to ASMR, both viewer and creator. Others will want the high-tech, the C.G.I. characters and special effects. Is this war even winnable? No. The Studio ASMRtists have no reason to stop producing content. Homegrown ASMRtists might gripe and complain about the commercialization of ASMR and groan about how ‘BuzzFeed ASMR’ has taken over. How can an ASMRtist working out of her home, making a haircut video compete against a Studio ASMRtist doing the same, but with an actual salon set to work on and damn good audio and visual?

Could an advance in computer’s solve this problem? Going back again to the example of Departure, we have an example of ASMR with extremely high production values not made by a large studio. But did it take time? Considering the gap between the first (2/23/2013) and second (1/16/2014) episodes of Departure, then yes. ASMRrequests even made a video about how difficult the process was.

Now imagine that same scenario with the possible technology of the year 2035? Moore’s Law states that the “number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit has doubled approximately every two years.” What ASMRrequests did with Departure would have been very difficult for a computer of 1993  to pull off. The computers used for C.G.I. modeling for Jurassic Park took up three whole rooms at Industrial Light and Magic. Now, similar effects can be created by a single Xbox One. Moore’s Law is helping us close the gap. The war might very well end because the reasons for it ceased to exist.

3. ASMR’s strange children.

Possible Time Frame: (2035-2060)

As time goes on in this hypothetical world, ASMR is canonized into our culture. The average person knows what an ASMR video is, maybe a bit vaguely, but they know. Nurses in retirement homes play ASMR to help patients get to sleep. ASMR is suggested by doctors and therapists to help patients with anxiety, insomnia and more. A small core (around fifty to ninety) of prominent ASMRtists produce the most viewed content. It might not be the most popular thing out there, or the most profitable, but it is respected. No one gives you weird looks for the most part if you start talking about tingles.

People start to get ideas. One of the benefits of ASMR is that it simulates social interaction in a consequence free way. The problem is, you can’t interact back. I could fire an Uzi into my ceiling and TheUKAMR will continue showing me perfumes like I didn’t just potentially kill my upstairs neighbor. So what if we could interact?

A Testing Ground for the Real World

It’s here ASMR begins to fade into the background. It has a hand in the events to come, but its presence will not be directly felt. But the seed is there. Look back hard enough into the past, and you’ll see someone applying foundation to a camera.

Hypothetical: Someone watching a video as a twelve year old in Calcutta, India in 2019 will go onto college, getting into artificial intelligence and computer programming. Two decades later, in 2039, that now-adult gets an idea, and decides to run where it will take him. It’s not a new idea by any means. He is not re-writing the program, but simply adding something possibly very vital to it.

Imagine what the grandson or daughter of Siri will sound like. Imagine an A.I. that can carry on a full, deep conversation, predict your actions, and even learn to find things funny, sad or even make them angry. Perhaps this new friend will exist in your smartphone, commentating on your life or simply waiting in the wings for you to talk to it. Or maybe you meet this emphatic cluster of data in a therapists office, where your conversations are recorded, combed over and screened for anything unbecoming. From there on you take them with you, learning from them and the therapist what it means to be a functional human being that can communicate without fear of offending, and maybe even learning how to stand up for yourself and for others along the way.

No judgement, no consequence. If you gaffe, say something stupid or awkward, the A.I. is not programmed to care. It won’t be an exact science. Trying to hammer down social interaction into a correct, definitive and universal format free of gray areas has been a subject of controversy and more often than not, intense ridicule.

There is comfort to be had. This electronic grandchild of ASMR would be denying its heritage if it wasn’t. Even if it sometimes must be mean or offensive, it doesn’t want to be. It knows how to comfort, to listen, to be a friend. But it must not be a crutch. The talking, friendly A.I. who might know a thing or too about tingle triggers must not be the only friend a person has. And what of the needs of the A.I.? Can we, should we program something with such power to not care for itself? Is that not part of the social experience, to deal with the needs of others? Do we need such a program? Should we need this? Shouldn’t a life filled with real human interaction be the forge by which a human hones their social skills?

Children of the Testing Ground

Let’s assume this program is widespread enough that a few million people have used the program in some way.  They learned at the feet of electronic avatars how to socialize, speak their minds and be something other than detached humans who live amongst electronics only. Some will look back on the experience with varying levels of disgust, spurning the ‘fake’ person that talked to them. Some will remember it fondly, a staple of their childhood they might say. They may even want their children to have one. Hell, maybe even that same A.I. is a member of their families, a relative not by blood, but by friendship, a mutual connection between two parties.

And there will be one person who wants to go one step further. To them a world where the world is an eternal ASMR video will be worth building, and worth defending.

2. Empathy’s dream.

Possible Time Frame: (2071-2109)

In an age where the idea of privacy is under threat, the idea almost seems horrible. It conjures up images of the Borg, of pale skinned, electronic laden cyborgs that were once people, now simply cogs in a massive system whose only goal is to assimilate all others. But there will inevitably be some, now and in the future, that will find it to be a dandy idea, a great one in fact. Because it has the potential to eliminate, maybe once and for all, the feelings of jealousy, rage, hate and confusion. In their place will come acceptance, calm, empathy and knowledge. All of it shared on a network of human brains, communicating almost seamlessly through a blend of technology and biological modification.

The first tries at it will be rough. A few will walk away from the experience driven mad from the noise of other minds. Others will not survive the implantation process of all the hardware, or will simply give out in the face of more and more information. Refinement will take place, the noise will be reduced, the flow of information given a dial to control it. The questions will remain: Will the ‘self’ survive? Will independent thought be able to exist or will it be cut down? Will these people have a common purpose?

1. The Connected.

2109

Gilese 581G was the obvious choice to settle. It was a beautiful, Earth-sized planet, smack dab in Gilese’s habitable zone. Twenty two light years would be a long trip on a Tyson Drive, even if you could just hit a shade above the speed of light. Twenty years, minimum. But the Connected do not mind. Twenty years together on a generation ship does not scare them. The fear of some is assuaged by all. All thoughts exchange between all in a open field. Nothing is left to hide, everyone is connected. All three hundred and ten of them.

They know their connection to ASMR, now a dusty artifact of another century come and gone. They know the reverence of some of the women and men who brought them together held for it. They have felt their joy, their nostalgia firsthand. Most of the first Connected are still amongst them, now busy trying to get the ship ready to take off into the cosmos at large. There is very little audible speech, as everyone communicates by thought. Knowledge of everything from Tyson Drive repair to how to cook a good curry passes between everyone. Some are still better at cooking than they will ever be at starship repair, but you take what you get.

One of the first ASMRtists is with them. She is an old woman, her body still going with a fine combination of drugs and nanite-assisted organ and tissue repair. A bit of a celebrity too, but she’d rather not dwell on it. She’s pushing one hundred and twenty but feels like she’s fifty. She has been busy the past few months, overseeing the installation of electronics and making sure they survive the next two decades, possibly more.

She steps out of the half-finished ship, still nameless after a year of debate. She wonders what the name will be. From a bag on her arm she pulls out lunch, a thermos of coffee and a pouch of ready to eat chicken and rice. She relishes the thought of being able to eat, and feels the others around her think the same as she passes them.

The hanger is as big as the Vehicle Assembly Building back on Earth. Thanks to the orbital factory rotating at a steady clip, she can walk somewhat normally. It isn’t moon gravity, which she is thankful for. She feels the preference for lunar gravity from a few people, but it is gently shaken off. She laughs in her mind and hears others laugh with her.

She sits down at a utilitarian table, printed out long-ago in a nameless factory. She pulls up a chair, looking down at the meal before her. She sets her bag down next to her and pulls out her fork. She looks back up, and towards the ship.

She spends her lunch in deep thought. Her long life unfolds in front of her like a long line of photos. She remembers the days when she used to do ASMR videos, almost up until forty years ago. She would sit down in front of a camera, brushing it with a blush brush, scratching its wicker basket scalp with a long toothed comb. She did nurse roleplays, motherly roleplays, zombie survivor roleplays. She even did one where she was dressed up as an avatar of Krishna.

A long gaze at the ship, with her thoughts swirling about in her mind, leaves her to shudder. The familiar rush of sensation along her back and neck hits her like a soft clap. I helped build this ship, she thinks to herself, all those years ago. God almighty…

Suddenly, everyone working either stops or slows in their work. They twist their necks, shrug shoulders. A few twitch and convulse or a split second.

A small, victorious smile parts the ASMRtists’ lips. She bites down on the urge to smack the table in victory. I still got it, she cheers to herself, I still got it.

Some laugh, some simply smile and keep going. They can only agree.

(Image used under Creative Commons license. Credit to Shan Sheehan.)

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