For most people, math is something only done out of necessity. Outside of basic budgeting or calculating a tip, the average person sees a complex math problem and runs the other way, and maybe for good reason. If you don’t have a natural affinity for it, like myself, math sucks. And if you’ve experienced any kind of difficulty with it, especially when you were young, it’s probably linked to a distinct feeling of anxiety.
But to understand some of the more pressing topics of the day, like trade tariffs or climate change, or say, cryptocurrencies, a general comfort with basic math concepts couldn’t be anything but beneficial. And that sentiment is precisely why one YouTuber started a channel to help people get a better handle on math.
“My experience in Canada and the United States is that the majority of people are illiterate in the language of mathematics,” says Chycho, who’s based on the west coast of Canada and prefers to only be identified by his online handle. “You can only understand how our economic system works once you speak the language of mathematics.” Chycho, who has a degree in geophysics and has worked as a math tutor professionally, uploaded his first YouTube video more than 10 years ago in the site’s early days, specifically to help out a younger relative who was struggling in school. In his first videos he explained math concepts by going outside and writing on a wall with chalk to make them more interesting, but not long after, an unintended audience found his channel, and his videos started to gain some traction. Soon, users were making their own requests for videos on things like the stock market or how to manage their finances, and Chycho started racking up views.
Around that time, which was in 2008, another type of video started popping up online, which by now you might have come across. Sometimes they start with a woman sitting close to a microphone whispering something, other times it’s a person tapping their fingernails on an object, or even, chomping down on a dill pickle—either way, if you’re a part of the uninitiated, then the videos look understandably bizarre, and you’d probably click away as fast as you could. The point of these videos is to trigger ASMR, which stands for autonomous sensory meridian response, and is also commonly referred to as “the tingles.”
For some people, certain sounds, like a raspy whisper, cause a tingling sensation that many say is relaxing—people like Chycho, who discovered ASMR around the time he started posting to YouTube. At that time, few people knew what ASMR was, but today a quick YouTube query yields more than 13 million results and some accounts rack up views in the tens of millions.
Chycho, who prides himself on being ahead of big trends, started making ASMR videos of his own—mostly one-offs, where he would do things like comb his beard or talk about his day—which people responded well to. But one day someone suggested that he make ASMR videos where he talked about math, to do lessons for people who get stressed out about learning it. The idea: ASMR might calm the stresses that many people feel when they’re faced with a tough math problem. And that’s where he found a niche on the internet, now with almost 30,000 subscribers to his channel.
He does lessons on trigonometry and algebra, on how to plan finances and or get better returns on investment, and even lessons on how blockchain and cryptocurrencies work. The response from his viewers is that he’s changing the way they see math. One commenter wrote on one of his videos, “You’re the Bob Ross of maths.” Another wrote, “I’m relearning math because of you.”
For Chycho, it’s all about changing the way people look at math. “I try to calm them down a little bit, get rid of the barriers that our centralized education system has put up and the hate that people have for mathematics,” Chycho said. “Once you start working with people with math, you realize that it’s not the math that’s the problem, it’s the perception of mathematics that’s the problem.”
Who knows if ASMR is the way to go to reshape people’s view of math for the masses, but for Chycho’s viewers, it seems to be doing the trick.