THE THIRTY-FOUR-MINUTE VIDEO opens with a tight shot of rings embedded in a velvet display case. As a softly accented voice describes them one by one, a white woman’s manicured fingers stroke the black fabric of the case and tap gently on the metal bands and stones. The voice and hands belong to Maria, who is not selling these rings but rather providing a specific experience for her viewers known as ASMR, or autonomous sensory meridian response. A Russian-born expat now residing in the US, Maria is perhaps the most popular practitioner of the growing online phenomenon of ASMR videos; almost eight hundred thousand people subscribe to her YouTube channel, GentleWhispering, and her videos have been watched hundreds of millions of times. In one offering, she counts a stack of greeting cards; in another, she plays with her friend’s hair; in another, she conducts a men’s suit fitting;
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