It’s 2006, and I just finished playing Counter-Strike with some buddies (read: clan) and am crushing some Red Barron’s Pizza. I’m debating on whether I should call it a night, or slickly put this chick I like on my Myspace Top 8 (cause I’m a boss like that). Or maybe, I’ll hop on Limewire or Kazaa and completely destroy my family’s computer. Ah, what a time to be alive.
Instead, I hop on AOL Instant Messenger (or, “AIM” for the cool kids), and my buddy immediately sends me a video link. YouTube wasn’t even a thing yet, so god knows where the original link was hosted. Before I can click the link, he makes sure to say “bro close ur eyes and make sure u wear headphones.” I respond “lol kk brb.” At this point, I’m pretty sure its super NSFW or is intended to scare the living hell out of me.
Against my better judgment, I put on my headphones, close my eyes, and dive into the video. To my surprise, it’s called the Virtual Barber Shop:
(P.S., if you haven’t ever stumbled onto this video before, I suggest you watch it. It’s a pretty damn cool video. But don’t forget, “bro close ur eyes and make sure u wear headphones.”)
The Virtual Barber Shop
As I hit play, I’m immediately transported to the Starkey Cetera Barber Shop, more commonly known as the “Virtual Barber Shop.” I hear Luigi introduce himself and then proceed to give me one of the most memorable “haircuts” of my life. But what’s even more amazing, is that I see him—in my mind at least. The rich, detailed, and high-fidelity audio helps to paint a picture in my mind’s eye. Somewhere between the plastic bag over my ears and the scissors snipping away at my hair, it happens: a tingling sensation run down my neck. Today, we’d call my response Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR), but in 2006, it just was one of the weird but cool oddities of the internet.
Nearly 15 years later, it is still one of the coolest god damn things I’ve ever stumbled onto on the internet. Considering the unhealthy amount of memes and content I consume, that’s pretty damn impressive. What’s even more impressive, is that it WAS CREATED IN 1996. Take that in. To give some context, in 1996: Tupac was killed, Google.com didn’t exist yet, and the main web browser was Netscape Navigator. The fact that the audio is of higher quality than most things on YouTube today is mind-blowing. To say this was before its time is an understatement.
The Company Behind the Audio: QSound Labs
When you look at the story behind the audio, it makes sense why it’s so good. The audio was produced by QSound Labs, a company that specialized in audio enhancement technology. In the mid to late ‘90s, QSounds Labs was working with Starkey Laboratories to manufacture and market hearing aids, intending to restore a “user’s ability to listen selectively in noisy situations.” The technology at the center of these hearing aids? Cetera—that thing that Luigi whispers into your ear.
“In a very real way, I might not be doing what I am doing now without the Virtual Barber Shop”
Fast forward a decade and a half, and ASMR is a global phenomenon, and I’m a writer for an ASMR website. Now, there’s a chance that I wouldn’t even know what ASMR was without this video. The first time I stumbled across your typical ASMR video, I immediately connected the dots and said to myself, “Hey, this is basically trying to be like that barber shop video.” Real talk, I might have dismissed ASMR at first glance simply because of its awkwardness. But, because I had already experienced ASMR growing up, I was more open to the idea of it. In a very real way, I might not be doing what I am doing now without the Virtual Barber Shop.
I should probably go and thank my friend for sending it to me…