The internet has no shortage of unique communities. Some are self-contained and secretive, while others—like the ASMR YouTubers—have become something more akin to an industry.
ASMR stands for autonomous sensory meridian response, longhand for a tingling sensation triggered by certain close-range sounds: whispering, hair brushing, and soap carving are just three of the many ASMR genres. The biggest accounts have millions of subscribers, and what was once a niche market for relaxation (Bob Ross is often credited as the "godfather of ASMR") has blossomed into an industry.
It's gotten to the point that ASMR is making the move from YouTube to the real world. Whisperlodge is an "immersive theater experience" started by co-creators Andrew Hoepfner and Melinda Lauw. Their sessions play out like an ear spa—participants hear a variety of triggers as they move through the Whisperlodge, from a handful of marbles to a faux medical procedure.
As for why ASMR's popularity has exploded in recent years, the Whisperlodge creators have a theory: "We are so used to getting everything off the internet now," says Lauw. "If we want a date we go online, if we want to buy food we go online, and if we relax we go online. ASMR is just a part of that."
Hoepfner goes even further. He thinks ASMR connects with a viewer's need for intimacy. "I think it indicates people going to digital media to receive things we used to receive in person from each other."
Regardless of the why, the Whisperlodge was a truly unique experience. Whether their real world ASMR will ignite a similar fanticism remains to be seen, but for now, the ASMR community continues to expand, both online and off.