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In 1964, Marshall McLuhan announced that “the medium is the message.” There’s a lot more to his theory than can be glossed here, but building on McLuhan, my formulation would have to account for impact. The medium of cultural texts shapes the world, but it is vital to understand and analyze what it shapes the world into, or into whose image it shapes the world. Taken this way, considering ASMR as a medium that occurs across platforms but that relies for its impact on miniature technologies (smartphones, earbuds), the question becomes whether the medium of ASMR is cyborgian in the sense of Donna Haraway’s political project or more reactionary in the way most mediums under late capitalism are?
Jackie Orr, in her 2012 update on Haraway’s cyborg, lays out the conditions of that year in terms of upheaval, concluding: “Or. In other words. It’s here again, utopia. How will we inhabit it this time?” Her statement from nine years ago is nothing if not more pressing today in 2021. She goes on in her assessment of Haraway’s work to write, “the manifesto offers an analytic imaginary saturated with geographies of contact and connection across multiple scales.” It is this kind of contact that I see occurring in the cyborgian construction of ASMR as a medium. The integration of phone and eye, ear bud and auditory perception. This brings us again to whether the contact that occurs here is liberatory or oppressive in nature.
Technology is fully integrated in the medium of ASMR into the body/consciousness/subjectivity. This does and does not bolster Haraway’s argument regarding boundary-blurring. As critics of her work have pointed out, we remain distinct bodies, even as we integrate, so that there is still something called “human” and something called “machine” that act in concert but are never fully subsumed into each other. In this way, ASMR, taken as a medium reliant on miniature exhibition technology, both supports and confounds the cyborg. In so doing, it both challenges and reifies categories of race, gender, and sexuality, ultimately leaving them intact.
Jackie Orr, "Materializing a Cyborg’s Manifesto," WSQ: Women's Studies Quarterly, Volume 40, Numbers 1 & 2, Spring/Summer 2012, pp. 273-280
Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. Gingko Press, 2003.
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