By Ron Scopelliti


Batteries. I recently drifted off to sleep thinking about batteries and woke up still thinking about batteries. I’m a little surprised that I didn’t dream about batteries in the interim, but then again, batteries are one of the few things I can’t remember ever dreaming about.

It happened because one of my favorite ways of falling asleep is by watching reruns of “Nova” on PBS, and the episode I was watching happened to be about the science of batteries. While new episodes of “Nova” generally keep me riveted to the screen, I’ve found that old ones are a good way to drift off, while refreshing myself on science and history.

One of the things that helps me fall asleep watching PBS is the lack of commercials. I don’t have to worry about being just on the edge of sleep and being shaken back to consciousness by someone shouting “Ba-bam!” in a Tom Sparks commercial.

But the main thing that helps me fall asleep is the comfort I take in “Nova’s” rationality. Some people get comfort from their faith, but I’ve got no faith so I rely on rationality to get me through. With the level of unrest in the world, everybody seems to be actively seeking out things that will give them a feeling of comfort and safety, whether it be weighted blankets or video doorbells or, in my case, a rerun of a science show about batteries. One of the most interesting sources of comfort I’ve seen lately has been the emergence of ASMR videos.

ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, a term coined around 2010. It describes a reaction some people have to certain audio-visual stimuli. The response is commonly described as a tingling sensation that starts at the scalp and moves down the spine, accompanied by feelings of relaxation, well-being, and mild euphoria.

As with anything audio-visual that matters these days, ASMR came to the forefront on YouTube. According to a February report in London’s “Evening Standard,” there are currently more than 13 million ASMR videos on YouTube.

ASMR performers generally evoke the response through whispering, ambient noises, and personal attention role-playing such as simulating a massage or a haircut. Many videos feature ASMR artists tapping or scratching various surfaces, or chewing substances like ice, gum, or honeycomb.

The phenomenon received some mainstream exposure when Michelob ran an ASMR-inspired commercial during this year’s Super Bowl. Unfortunately, “Business Week” noted that most reactions to the commercial were negative. My theory is that the low-key, ambient nature of the commercial was undercut by the more low-key and ambient nature of the game.

I’ve tried watching ASMR videos, but I haven’t had spectacular results. It just doesn’t seem to work for me. I’ve also never gotten those Magic Eye pictures to work for me, but I always assumed that was because of my nearsightedness or astigmatism.

Maybe there’s something fundamentally worn with my brain. But I don’t think so, because I do get that tingly feeling in my head from certain songs. I get that sensation from “The Whole of the Moon” by the Waterboys, or “Ripple” by the Grateful Dead, or “Soul Soldier” by Throwing Muses.

I found one ASMR video that I thought should really work for me – a pleasant young woman manipulating Dungeons and Dragons dice and related paraphernalia. But after 10 minutes, I was feeling no tingles and not even a sense of peace. In fact, she was really starting to get on my nerves.

The one time I came close to getting the ASMR tingly feel on YouTube was during a “binaural whispering” video by Heather Feather, where her voice shifted from ear to ear, much like the effect that Pink Floyd used toward the end of “Interstellar Overdrive.” But the video also made me kind of uneasy in a way that, oddly enough, the Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd song doesn’t.

The one ASMR option I still want to try is somebody being touted as an unintentional ASMR star – the legendary Bob Ross, who hosted “The Joy of Painting” on PBS. I can see where his whispered instructions, and the scraping sounds of his paintbrush and palette knife against canvas would qualify.

I guess in troubled times we all need to find comfort where we can, no matter how unlikely it may seem. Whether, it’s blankets that feel like they’re lined with lead, candles that smell like apple pie and unicorn sweat, or an ASMR artist chewing on honeycomb.

But next time I need some inner peace I’ll tune in to PBS, and hope to find a prelude of Bob Ross painting happy little trees, followed by a rerun of “Nova” where I’m sung to sleep by the crackling of an overheated lithium ion battery – the lullaby of science.