Tumblr's Studyblr community finds enjoyment in academia. (Illustration by Sezi Kaya, Parsons School of Design)

Studyblr: A Supportive Community, or Perfection-Driven Competition?

The online community has served the purpose of proliferating joy and connection around learning, but it may also be contributing to stress-inducing perfectionism.

Thoughts x

The online community has served the purpose of proliferating joy and connection around learning, but it may also be contributing to stress-inducing perfectionism.

Studyblr is an online phenomenon that — as the name suggests — originated on the blogging website Tumblr and is primarily dedicated to the purpose of finding enjoyment in academia. The community is so ubiquitous that most people who have stepped foot on Tumblr have caught glimpses of highly-stylized, immaculate notes, swirled lattes in shiny porcelain mugs and huge assortments of pastel-themed highlighters and muji pens.

Within the community, there is a sense of curated beauty that arises from the careful arrangement of photos into collections that speak to one another, and perhaps contribute to a larger theme. There are data sets carefully penned onto graph paper, letters that appear to be typed rather than written by hand and notes decorated with colorful art and the occasional newspaper clipping or sticker.

When scrolling through the depths of online spaces dominated by dedicated students, underneath the beautiful photos, motivational quotes and curated personas, there are captions that are imbued with a sense of honesty — captions that detail the ups and downs of a user’s day, a note of gratitude and an acknowledgement of struggle.

Here, there is a sense of authenticity — an honest, realistic sentiment to which other users respond in kind. In this sense, studyblr may be some of the most fertile ground for human connection and commiseration that the electric glare of a computer screen can offer. But, as such, it is also an online space that has its flaws, and should be navigated with a sense of awareness and caution, with enjoyment at the forefront and everything else in the periphery. The studyblr community is a prime example of how the true purpose and value of online communities must be kept at the center of each user’s experience, lest they be lost.

The studyblr phenomenon, which could be called a “beautification” of the learning process, could serve a real purpose for the minds of users. It could make the whole experience more about the process of studying itself, and the sense of community that comes with it. It shifts the paradigm of studying. It takes what could be seen as a mere means to an end (an A on a test, a bachelor’s degree, employment in a more financially fruitful profession) and makes it more of a hobby, and thus, a process that can contain a true sense of enjoyment without reference to the end result.

But it seems that there is a point where the detail-oriented perfectionism required to create images becomes a source of stress. Where is the line between seeing beauty in an activity and feeling the constant need to maintain an online image that points to this beauty whilst obstructing the true joy of learning?

There is an underlying attitude of perfectionism that isn’t difficult to spot. Here, it is clear that beautiful notes take time and effort, and create a set of expectations for what studying should actually look like. This perfectionism also creates an undue focus on notes as the end-all-be-all when it comes to efficient absorption of information, which is not always the case.

For disciplines like language-learning, it has become clear that continual exposure is more important for long-term retention than the constant review of immaculate notes. In such cases, perfect notes serve little to no purpose in carrying out the original task at hand, and may only serve the empty purpose of robotic online image-making.

Immaculate note-taking as a source of enjoyment is a different matter. It seems clear that many of the notes on Tumblr feeds were taken with a sense of joy and then passed on as something beautiful — an art form and a motivational testament to potential for beauty in learning. But to confuse the joy of creating beautiful notes and the joy of actually learning would be an injustice. This only leads to a perfectionistic sense of obligation — a sense that sloppy notes are an indication of a lack of attention to content. This is simply not so.

There seems to be a growing acknowledgement that not everyone derives joy from neat note-taking. Obsessing over aesthetics could serve as a hindrance and an expectation that cannot realistically be met. This shift in sentiment can be seen through a video by Mariana’s Study Corner, which details a note-taking method that is simple and focused on the thorough digestion of the information rather than painstaking attention to appearance. The message is loud and clear: Perfectionism is not efficient, and usually leads to undue stress rather than enjoyment — a complete scrambling of priorities.

The perfectionistic note-taking might be a symptom of a larger problem: excessive identification with the “studyblr aesthetic.” The internet-wide phenomenon of building a real-life identity based off of an online persona also exists in the studyblr community. When studyblr becomes an identity, it also takes on a competitive nature in which the success of others becomes a threat to the self.

A rat race ensues, and the joy of learning is dropped somewhere along the way. True purpose is lost. YouTubers Lindie Botes and Valeria Tiourina discuss this phenomenon in a recent video as it relates to the polyglot community (an offshoot of the studyblr community, which faces many of the same problems). Jealousy, the pressure of upholding an online identity and the unnecessary feeling of competition are all ills that fragment community and obscure the enjoyment of learning.

But behind the pitfalls, a foundation of good intention clearly remains. Upon just a brief inspection, you’ll find groups who bond over shared passions, and students who spend time selflessly creating long posts that provide practical information and guidance, or link to other resources, including meticulously-constructed sets of Quizlet flashcards.

There is an abundance of text posts that hold words of encouragement, and reminders of why the community exists in the first place. And with these acts of community, there is a re-centering of priorities — a realignment with enjoyment. That is why, despite its flaws, studyblr remains a space for the proliferation of creative potential, and a place to find joy in the midst of structured academia.

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