Gone are the days when influencers were merely composed of tanned, smiley, 20 somethings posing somewhere on a beach in Dubai. The rise of studytube, studytok, and studygram (depending on the platform you're using) has seen the introduction of a new kind of influencer.
Social media is saturated with false images heavily edited to conveniently remove the cellulite, lumps, and bumps. So this step away from the materialistic and shallow cycle of curated feeds into something more meaningful is surely positive, right? Well, perhaps not. YouTube has become populated with videos like I STUDIED 100 HOURS IN A WEEK and Why I’m able to study 4 hours with NO breaks — a video that has racked up 9.3 million views. Whilst promoting a positive work ethic, motivation, and the resilience to build a career — all things that are desperately needed — are these growing online study communities doing more harm than good?
Studytube, StudyTok and StudyGram
Sima Al Haj, 17, says that she first came across these online study communities during the lockdown, but only began interacting with them later on when she needed to revise for her GCSEs the most. “They helped me focus for very long hours on my studying without getting distracted too easily.”
Student, Kevin Vaurughese, was also first introduced to online study communities during his GCSEs, but for a different reason. “I had no idea how to revise English so I searched it up on YouTube and came across lots of tips and tricks to try and help with English exams.” He didn’t feel particularly benefited, however, since he “forgot most of them when it came to the exam due to stress.”
Online study culture is far-reaching and can be found on virtually every app from Instagram to YouTube to TikTok.
Rajvinder Kaur, 17, believes that TikTok has the “most strong and thriving study community as the app only allows for short videos, which get to people faster and more people have the attention span to follow.” Youtube, Rajvinder says, is also particularly strong in this since she thinks it paved the way by being one of the “first platforms to broadcast these types of videos, with many anxious students binge watching these videos in attempts for them to gain some sort of help.”
Whilst some students may turn to Youtube to calm their nerves as they do some last-minute cramming, Sima takes a different approach, saying that “Youtube study with me videos help me focus while revising. Whereas Instagram reels and posts motivate me to start studying in the first place.” Sima’s preference lies in Youtube “due to its many videos about different revision methods, specific to each subject and much more.”
However, Sima didn’t always feel like this. Initially she “didn’t think much of it at first” something which Muminah Altaf, 17, also resonated with, saying at first she thought it was “unnecessary to share your study routine publicly.” But, as time progressed both students began to cherish these online study communities with Muminah saying that she gradually found it to be “very helpful and inspiring seeing other people in the same boat as you.” Sima feels “grateful” saying that the online study content helped her to stop feeling “unmotivated” and allowed her to study longer.
For Rajvinder, this wasn’t the case. She started off feeling “inspired”, at the portrayal of studying in “quick, easy videos” that made it look “easy and fun.” She soon realized, however, that these videos weren’t representative as many came in the form of timelapse which condenses the entire process. Over time, her thoughts have changed. Although she initially romanticized studying, she now scrolls past studying videos, saying that people have turned it into an “aesthetic”. Rajvinder finds that if ever she does turn to online study content, it’s more due to procrastination than motivation and the desire to “timelapse my way into knowing everything.”
Toxic Productivity and Its Impact
Notably, in recent times some studytubers who regularly post videos flaunting their efficiency, have slowly begun to address toxic productivity. Speaking to the BBC, psychologist Dr. Julie Smith explains that toxic productivity is an “obsession with radical self-improvement above all else and the result is that no matter how productive you are, you’re always left with that guilty feeling of not having done more.
During the lockdown, we were constantly pushed to do more and be more. There was this immense pressure that if you didn’t leave lockdown having achieved a great feat like writing a novel or learning a new language, you somehow failed. According to Dr. Smith, this is a toxic productivity message.
Dr. Smith goes on to say that one of the signs that you may be struggling with toxic productivity is “having relentless and unrealistic expectations for yourself. So that you feel like you’re constantly failing to be enough.” Another sign is restlessness, so “when it is time to rest you find it difficult to relax or difficult to sleep.”
This is something that Sima struggles with, saying that “if I take a day off to relax where I don’t do any studying, then I feel like somehow I’ve failed and started doubting myself. The next day I would do twice as much studying as I normally would, due to the guilt of not being productive.”
Muminah, on the other hand, believes that societal expectations and pressures are also responsible for negative mental health among students. She says that “many parents who force the idea of certain career paths (..) are essentially setting their child up for failure.”
How to Tackle Toxic Productivity
Given how pervasive study culture is (as well as the pressure to conform to it), how is it possible to tackle toxic productivity?
Dr. Smith explains that it is important to understand that you are human just like everyone else and that “you are enough as you are today.” Number two on her list is realizing that self-care “is not an indulgence, it is essential for good physical and mental health.” Number three is having certain non-negotiables in your life. Things that “no matter how busy you get, you always do.” This could be your evening skin-care routine, reading, or exercise.
You might also like:
All your donations will be used to pay the magazine’s journalists and to support the ongoing costs of maintaining the site.