Digital scalp massage, anyone?

There was a time when I expressed my fears about the impact of digital technology on our daily lives and relationships.

But I have also discovered the more pleasurable benefit of digital technology and I am putting it to good use to maintain my mental health and wellness.

Every morning, I click on our smart TV and sink into my favorite seat. I press on my favorite mainstreaming channels and watch the images while listening to the accompanying music or sounds, at low volume level.

The imagery could be autumn leaves or spring flowers, breathtaking landscapes or walk-throughs of places around the world. One of my favorites is a channel about birds and their natural sounds. All captured in high definition living color by drone cameras or handheld cameras as the case may be.

Like a sumptuous feast for the senses, this has been my daily routine since the pandemic lockdown began. It’s what gets me ready to face the day, with a clear mind, a slower pulse and a stable blood pressure level.

At night, my routine is listening to Gregorian Chant or music by Scarlatti or Baldassari to lull me to sleep. Music to me is the most effective “sleeping pill.”

It’s the same with my wife who also never fails to become drowsy when we watch these streaming channels. To her, the constant monotonous sounds become sort of “white noise.” I used to tell her that the hypnotic or soporific effect on her could be the undetectable flicker and the light waves being beamed from TV screen.

But that’s not all. On several occasions, she is puzzled by the creeping sensation on her scalp while we’re watching the TV. I said it must be her nerves on her scalp. Or is it?

One possible explanation is a phenomenon called ASMR, which stands for “autonomous sensory meridian response”. I recently read about it and it’s intriguing stuff.

ASMR refers to that pleasurable feeling that is deeply relaxing, which is triggered by placid sights and sounds and can even cause one to fall asleep. Some say that it induces the sensation of a scalp massage. Some say the “tingles” run through the scalp and down the spine.

Coined in 2010, the term ASMR quickly caught on, as people found out that the unexplainable pleasant feeling they had been experiencing is shared by others. Like my wife, they were simply at a loss as to what was going on or whether they were just weird. Now, suddenly they realize they’re not alone in experiencing this strange sensation.

We did not know it then but one of the pre-Internet examples of ASMR videos were the painting lectures of the late Bob Ross whose honeyed voice and dulcet tones could be considered ASMR triggers. Our family used to watch his shows and my then adolescent boisterous children would suddenly quiet down when the show was on. Recently I stumbled on the Bob Ross’s old series on Netflix and as I watched them again, I think his mellifluous voice still works as a wonderful sedative for a tired mind.

However, this “ASMR scalp massage” doesn’t seem to work for everyone. I myself don’t feel “tingles” on my scalp. Nevertheless, ASMR is now a massive and growing trend. In fact, there is now a community that is absolutely infatuated and enthusiastic about the sensorial experience of continuous streaming sound and image.

There are a number of so-called “ASMRtists” who create content now on streaming platforms designed to make the viewer feel good. Their videos are typically narrated in hushed voices and accompanied by soft sounds recorded on specialized microphones. A well-done ASMR video can garner several million views.

Although the term ASMR may sound very technical, we are just beginning to unravel the science behind ASMR. Why this happens, and why, is still completely unknown. They are now being put to scientific testing, and the results are being studied by neuroscientists. Let’s just say ASMR is just one of life’s known unknowns.

Some doomsayers will probably point out that with the proliferation of ASMR videos, the dystopian scenario depicted in the film “Clockwork Orange” might become a reality. The said movie portrays a totalitarian government that is bent on transforming psycho-criminals into non-violent people by forcing them to listen to pleasant classical music all day long until they eventually become robot-humans.

That’s probably taking it too far. Wherever the future of ASMR may lead us, there are others who choose to instead focus on its potential therapeutic benefits akin to meditation and suggest that it can be used to enhance mood and relieve pain.

Could it also help those who are suffering from depression? Why not? Content creators have gotten feedback from diverse people, including suicidal teenagers who say that watching the videos changed their attitude and mood even for just a few minutes.

ASMR videos can also serve as effective creative triggers. While writing or creating concepts, I click on one of those streaming videos with pleasant music to keep the juices flowing. They are better than the mood-enhancing “muzak” type of music. I’m sure ASMR videos can also inspire other artists such as architects who are designing a new building or those who are experiencing writer’s block.

All of this shows that in spite of our fears, digital technology can have a comforting influence on our well-being.

So if you are responsive to ASMR, why not try using it to massage the daily stress out of your mind?