If you've spent any time on the Internet in the past couple of years, I'm sure you're at least somewhat familiar with ASMR. ASMR, which stands for autonomous sensory meridian response, is "an experience characterized by a static-like or tingling sensation on the skin that typically begins on the scalp and moves down the back of the neck and upper spine." Stimuli that trigger this kind of experience can include listening to a soft or whispering voice, listening to repeated tapping, listening to chewing, crunching, slurping, or biting, and feeling things with a unique texture. ASMR is rumored to be helpful in relieving symptoms of anxiety, depression, or insomnia, along with delivering an overall euphoric feeling to some listeners, even being called "a brain orgasm."
There is some research behind this fad. Pioneering studies out of the University of Sheffield found that those who participated in watching ASMR videos "felt calmer and had lower heart rates than those in the control group who did not engage in ASMR." However, what often gets left out of this conversation is the materials needed to create these ASMR videos and recordings and the environmental impact that the excessive use of them has.
Think about a typical ASMR video in which the person creating the sounds and experiences leans into a microphone while they take a bite out of an apple. A minute later they pick up a piece of bubble wrap and pop them one after the other. Maybe they pour a jar of glitter into a bowl and stir it around with their finger, the pieces brushing against each other until you get that tingly feeling in your brain. Maybe in another video of theirs, they make some slime and push their fingers in and out, the repetitive sound next to the mic satisfying the listener.
What we never see is where all these materials go after the video is over. The apple with a single bite taken out of it, the bubble wrap, now completely useless, the glitter and glue and everything else that goes into making a slime concoction thrown in the trash and, inevitably, ending up in landfills and waterways.
You know that video where the turtle gets a plastic straw stuck in its nose? Sheets of bubble wrap will do just as much damage.
The truth is, we're kind of selective about the ways in which we choose to be sustainable. We're all for banning plastic straws (even though they only account for .03% of the eight million metric tons of plastics estimated to enter the oceans in a given year) and we'll buy a set of bamboo utensils and post our #MeatlessMonday selfies on Instagram. But something like ASMR videos which are trendy and fun to watch, we don't really get as upset about.
With hundreds and hundreds of ASMR YouTubers posting videos weekly, it's not hard to imagine the accumulation of waste that takes place due to this trend. If we really want to live sustainably, we can't cherry pick what we want to get behind and what we don't. Even if it means giving up those slime videos.