I grew up in an area surrounded by steel mills, foundries, coke plants, and shops that assembled railroad cars. On summer evenings the skies were often filled with red sparks when they were pouring molten metal. Once I got a glimpse of the rolling mill, where my father worked, and saw the glowing sheets of steel racing around the factory floor. It resembled what I would have imagined Dante’s Inferno looked like.
In the 1950s the National Association of Manufacturers produced a television program called Industry on Parade. In each episode there was a behind-the-scenes look at manufacturing companies. I watched it intently on Saturday mornings between cartoons. It portrayed how some item was manufactured. I can distinctly remember the program on how tires were made. I especially liked the shows demonstrating how candy was produced. The precision of the manufacturing process, especially for Hershey Kisses, was mesmerizing. Samuel Dodd, from the Ohio Valley Center, says that the legacy of Industry on Parade can “be found today on channels such as DIY Network and HGTV, and programs like How it's Made.
Other programs like Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood also had segments that showed videos of things being manufactured. The recent movie about Mr. Rogers, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, describes interviews with a journalist that resulted in a magazine cover story; I was interested in the inside look at how magazines are made.
When I was in high school, my favorite band trip was our visit to Elkhart, to see how brass musical instruments were made. The precision was something to behold. Elkhart is the “Band Instrument Capital of the World" and the Conn-Selmer conglomerate still operates there.
One manufacturing process familiar to most Kentuckiana residents is the making of bats at the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory. This is where you can see the Hillerich & Bradsby Company run wooden billets through their automated wood lathes to make their world famous baseball bats. The tour covers the whole process — from unformed chunks of wood to a box of finished bats ready for shipping.
Besides factory tours, people can also view these manufacturing processes on social media. Nathaniel Scharping, an editor for Milwaukee-based Discover Magazine, says “… the internet discovered lathe turners — and pastry chefs, calligraphers, industrial machines, baristas and 3-D printers — and found it liked them.” Video compilations grouped under the term “oddly satisfying” can be found being shared on Facebook and other social media. These posts attract millions of views and typically feature people and machines doing various tasks that involve repetition, skill, perfection and precision. I have to admit in addition to wasting my time watching how Tootsie Rolls are made, I have squandered untold hours watching Facebook videos of people making wooden bowls and decorating cakes.
Things that are “oddly satisfying” may also relate to an unconscious urge that has been called the “Goldilocks just right feeling.” This is the feeling we get when things have been put in order and there is a sensation of relief, completion and closure. Such a feeling is often lacking in individuals with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), according to neuroscientist Sarah Keedy at the University of Chicago. People with OCD may not be able to interpret information indicating when a task is completed. This, of course, leads to compulsive checking and obsessive doubt.
While completion may feel satisfying, a lack of closure often generates anxiety and discomfort. Spanish researchers administered a word recall task to people with OCD and a control group composed of people without any identified disorders. The researchers terminated the task for all subjects’ right in the middle of the job. They had correctly assumed that stopping the task before finishing would then trigger unease. The control group participants felt uncomfortable, but OCD participants were significantly more distressed. Two OCD participants even mailed their completed lists to the researchers after the study ended.
The human brain contains what are called mirror neurons. These neurons have been called into service to explain the sensation of “odd satisfaction” when watching certain activities. These nerve cells become activated when you perform some physical action, but also when you observe someone else performing the same activity. Thus watching skillful and precise activity might engender the same satisfied feelings as if you were doing it yourself.
The dexterity and precision in many of these videos is also a major feature. People generally have a strong affinity for such mastery. Disney cartoonist Carl Barks in the 1960s wrote and illustrated a series of Donald Duck comic books, which are collected in a volume titled, “The Brittle Mastery of Donald Duck.” In each story, Donald is initially portrayed as the absolute master of a specific craft such as rainmaking, gardening, haircutting, glass repair, building demolition, ice fishing, etc. Donald demonstrates his mastery on several occasions, but eventually runs into spectacular trouble, due to either an internal flaw or some malevolent influence. Bark’s drawings, which illustrate Donald’s mastery, arguably fall into the “oddly satisfying” category and may partially account for the popularity of this series.
Videos of manufacturing processes usually have a great deal of visual symmetry. Research indicates the human brain has an evolutionary preference for such symmetry. It’s associated with health, beauty and attractiveness, and may stimulate the release of serotonin and dopamine, which leads to feelings of happiness and positivity.
Finally, the pleasant feelings associated with viewing these “oddly satisfying” videos may overlap as much as 50% with what is called the autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR). New York cybersecurity expert Jennifer Allen coined this term in 2010. It refers to a pleasant tingling sensation that typically begins on the scalp and moves down the back of the neck and upper spine. ASMR is a euphoric response thought to be a combination of positive feelings. It is most commonly triggered by specific auditory or visual stimuli. A 2017 survey found that “slow-paced, detail-focused videos” are especially effective triggers for ASMR. Over 13 million videos on YouTube have been created with the express intent to elicit such responses in viewers.
The popularity of such videos may also be another indicator of just how challenging and stressful society is today. Scharping says, “In a world of chaos and inelegance, it can be reassuring to see order and control.”
— Terry L. Stawar, Ed.D., lives in Jeffersonville and is the CEO of LifeSpring Health Systems. He can be reached at email@example.com.