My YouTube home page is a familiar landscape. Every time I click on it, there is a different assortment of the same genre of videos: pastry recipes, video essays and film trailers. But lately, an outsider has slowly been crawling its way into a permanent spot in my recommendations. Merve, a UK creator, creates Study With Me videos, each with beautiful, pacific thumbnails — an image of a desk, a sliver of sky, a laptop and carefully arranged sheets of paper. I’ve become fond of her content because of such details (I’m actually watching one of her videos as I write the first draft of this article). They have a soothing effect on me: As Merve sets up her supplies and begins typing, I feel a desire to be as productive as possible as well.
Merve’s videos are a part of what Fadeke Adegbuyi termed the Study Web, “a constellation of digital spaces and online communities—across YouTube, TikTok, Reddit, Discord, and Twitter—largely built by students for students.” Though Study With Me videos are possibly the most visible elements of the Study Web, if you are a member of Gen Z or a younger millennial, you have probably come across content pertaining to or inspired by this corner of the internet. Maybe the YouTube algorithm recommended some lo-fi beats to study and relax to, or maybe you came across a TikTok offering college life hacks. In any case, the study phenomenon continues.
Like many modern internet phenomena, this corner of the internet originates from Tumblr. Studyblrs — a portmanteau of “study” and “Tumblr” — were blogs designed to help students take better notes and learn more easily. The immediate heirs of Studyblrs are Studygrams, Instagram pages designed to share a student’s journey in the academic world. However, many aspects of the Studyblr communities seeped into different social platforms, particularly Study With Me videos. First termed “gongbang,” these videos were popularized by Korean YouTubers. Though not all the same, the most popular creators of these videos share a similar stripped-down, pastel-colored, carefully crafted aesthetic.
Study With Me videos gained popularity before the pandemic, but the pandemic consolidated their overwhelming presence in student life. According to Google Trends, these videos continue to slowly increase in popularity. After peaking around the world during the first month of the pandemic, they have remained above their pre-pandemic average ever since.
The reasons behind the shift are understandable. As Eunice, a high school student from the Ivory Coast, told me, “I started watching them because I wanted to force myself to study in quarantine.” Michelle, a college student in New York, told me something similar. “The quarantine throughout last year made it horrible for me to be able to focus at home while working and studying from home, but videos or content tailored for studying help me just shift into a ‘work mode’ in an otherwise relaxed atmosphere.” In this landscape, Study With Me videos offer companionship, but they also provide a gentle peer pressure for a “pressurized academic environment supercharged in the face of a pandemic.”
Companionship goes both ways. As Mile, an Argentinian Studygram creator, told me, she started her Studygram account after months of watching similar content. Her account now has around 4000 followers, most of whom are searching for motivation, either through her reels videos or her posts featuring her study station. Her account also helped her as a form of public accountability; she mentioned that she can organize and set study hours more efficiently since she started posting constantly.
The aesthetic that characterizes the Study Web is easily recognizable: Muji pens, Midliner highlighters, MacBooks and matcha lattes. As Kaitlyn Tiffany wrote in her analysis of the Studyblr community, “Money has been invited into the basic fiber of this community and it’s probably too late to get it out.” The trend blew up from content across all corners of the internet, pushing what some students felt was “a stereotypical way of studying.” Though this might not be true of smaller creators, like Mile, it rings true for many of the Study Web’s biggest creators.
Similarly, the monetization of parasocial relationships means that creators can now sell these aesthetics directly to their subscribers. As Fadeke Adegbuyi writes, “The allure is not only that you can study with your favorite creator, but study like them, buying all their favorite study gadgets and gizmos.” These creators are also well-suited to selling a range of products since the internet “operates similarly to traditional word-of-mouth marketing, widely considered the most effective selling strategy that exists.” Once they learn how to profit from the companionship created through this community, Study Web creators may grow more similar to other lifestyle influencers, who act as a link between the interests of marketing departments and the general public.
Regardless, the Study Web offers a soothing aid for what is often an anxiety-ridden pursuit. With the rise of the Delta variant, students from many parts of the world expect another semester or two of remote learning. In this landscape, the Study Web and Study With Me videos will likely continue to rise in popularity and scale.