When it comes to Tumblr, I often have the impression that I was pretty late to the party. I made my first Tumblr blog in 2011 after stumbling upon the site because I had been looking for fanart for the mystery/horror show, Grimm. I was already in my last year of high school and my blog reflected what I was obsessed with at this point in my life: mostly TV shows, dinosaurs, and iced coffee.
Since that time, for the last 10 years, Tumblr has been the social media site I have used most consistently. It is described as a blogging site, but it is rarely used in the way that traditional blogs are. While some people use Tumblr to write long and extensive text posts, most users post and reblog shorter posts, as well as pictures and gifs.
One of the things that I like about Tumblr is that it only shows you the content and reblogs of blogs that you actually follow, as opposed to Twitter where my timeline is full of tweets other people have liked. Ads on Tumblr are few and far between, not like Instagram, where about every 3rd post I encounter is an ad. Last but not least, Tumblr shows you the posts on your dashboard in chronological order, which has, under the rule of algorithms, become quite rare. Also, there are communities for every hobby and interest under the sun on Tumblr, which often can be found under a hashtag that combines the subject of interest with the ending -blr. Plantblr, Bookblr, Scienceblr, and, of course, Studyblr.
When I began studying English at university in autumn 2012, I started following more book-related blogs on Tumblr and it was this kind of blog that ultimately got me into Studyblr. I remember being really into the look of annotated books – I have always loved scribbling and highlighting in my books, and I like seeing how it looks when other people do it. One day, I decided to browse through the “annotated books” tag, and this is when I stumbled onto hashtag Studyblr, and, not to be dramatic, but: a new world opened up for me.
Suddenly, I was faced with this gigantic community of people who were enthusiastic about studying. Studyblrs post pictures of their desks, their handwritten notes, and the books they read. They share tips for studying, essay writing, and college applications. Most importantly, they are really, really passionate about their fields of study and talk about this passion without embarrassment. This was very exciting and freeing for me – for a long time I had internalized excitement for anything as being a sign of weakness (participation in fandom helped to counteract this) and during my school years, I had worked hard at not ever letting anyone see me working hard. I even sometimes handed in blank quizzes because it gave me a vague feeling of power over my teachers (“See, you know I know the answers, and I know you know I know the answers – but you cannot make me write them down!”).
Even when I was genuinely excited about the topic of a lesson, I used to put off the required readings until the night before the exam, which only left me time to actually study my notes on the bus ride to school. During many of these last-minute study sessions, I realized that I absolutely loved working on a certain topic and wished I had started studying earlier. However, I never actually got to the point where this situation was frustrating enough to actually make me begin studying earlier.
Although, I am not sure why but when I was about 13 or 14, I became very averse to being seen as somebody who puts effort into things. On the one hand, in the early years of secondary school I had been denounced by classmates as being a Streber – a German word for which I haven’t been able to find a translation that comes close to evoking the burning shame in me that the original does, but “teacher’s pet” is an approximation (the online dictionary also give me “eager beaver”). So, I came to the conclusion that it would maybe help if nobody saw me strive for anything ever. As could have been easily predicted, it did not help.
On the other hand, my parents had always valued the education of me and my younger siblings very highly and I felt a lot of pressure to always be excellent. I distinctly remember wanting some kind of acknowledgement that I was seen as a valuable person regardless of my grades. Unfortunately, I was not a teenager who communicated needs and emotions, therefore, in a strange and misguided attempt at gaining autonomy, I simply decided to not get perfect grades anymore. As could have been predicted just as easily, this did not make me feel better, either.
Even though in the last years of high school I had become more self-confident and a lot of my friends, as well as other students, were openly very serious about school, my stubborn attitude had become second nature to me at this point. I refused to apply myself thoroughly to either homework or classes and instead spent my school days writing sad poems and adventurous fanfictions while my teachers’ voices were a background noise I barely registered. Looking back, it is very obvious that my refusal to let anyone see me care for anything prevented me from enjoying things that would have given me a lot of joy.
Luckily, in university I had begun to move away from this compulsive need to seem uncaring – it helped that I was surrounded by people who did not know me in high school, and thus I did not feel so compelled to uphold a personality that had become uncomfortable and too small to contain the enthusiasm I felt.
Studyblr was instrumental in allowing me to be genuinely excited about the things I was being taught. Seeing so many people being passionate and enthusiastic about classes, homework, and even studying for exams helped me to learn to celebrate countless small everyday things: annotating my readings with a nice highlighter, making comprehensive study notes, or trying out new techniques for studying or planning.
However, there are, without a doubt, countless things to criticize about the Studyblr community – as with any kind of community or subculture, since humans are, after all, very imperfect creatures. Almost as long as there has been Studyblr, I suppose, there have been posts pointing out its problems. Maybe at the top of the list of dangers is the ableism inherent to what is often seen as the central idea of Studyblr: the goal of filling every possible hour with productivity, even if that means forgoing food, sleep, and free time. Nobody, and least of all people with mental or physical disabilities or illnesses can be expected to put their wellbeing behind the idea of constantly pushing oneself. The often very quantifiable nature of Studyblr posts – “today I studied for X hours and read Y pages” – can easily make anyone who has neither the energy nor the focus to achieve similar numbers inferior.
Fortunately, for as long as I have been on Studyblr, I have also seen posts pointing this out, as well as posts that offer advice for studying with ADHD, depression, anxiety, and other afflictions. This topic goes hand in hand with the tendency to glamorize overwork and burnout. Many motivational posts focus on some vague point in the future where one is “successful” rather than on living a healthy and enjoyable life in the present. I have the feeling that this has gotten better in recent years, though, and there are more and more posts that point out the importance of taking breaks and having days off.
There is still a certain tendency to centre unbroken streaks in this community – in all the seven years I have been a part of this community, there was never a time when I did not regularly come across posts of bloggers taking part in the “100 Days of Productivity Challenge.” The goal is to do something “productive” at least once for 100 continuous days. It always makes me happy when I see a post in which a blogger decided that, for them, on this day productivity meant watching TV shows or going out with friends.
Another point of criticism is the often blatant consumerism in the Studyblr community. Posts that adhere to certain aesthetic standards get the most notes, and these aesthetic standards are often predicated on quite expensive things like Starbucks drinks, Macbooks, and cute stationery imported from Japan. Especially younger students might be tempted to buy things they cannot really afford to keep up appearances on their blog.
In the end, as with every site where users control what appears on their timeline or dashboard, it all depends on whom one follows. I follow mostly other PhD students in their twenties, and I suppose at some point in the process of becoming an adult, one learns to prioritize one’s wellbeing and the study methods that work, no matter how pleasing they look, rather than aiming to get in as many hours of productivity as possible.
I think I was very lucky that I discovered this community at 21 and during my second year of university. At this point, I was already relaxed enough about the university to not get tempted to put intense pressure on myself. I am not sure if it would have been good for me if I had already known about Studyblr while I was still in high school, or even earlier. Maybe it would have rekindled my love of learning, but maybe I would have also stumbled into another extreme – from a very careless attitude about school to an unhealthy perfectionism or a state where I only defined myself via my grades.
Even though I see its flaws, I am still active in the community and will be so for the foreseeable future. I still enjoy the pictures of annotated books that brought me to Studyblr in the first place. Seeing pictures of other people’s study spaces, their desks, their libraries, and their campuses, gives me the feeling of a shared experience and when I read someone posting about their big and small successes I am happy for them. Lastly, I was never one to scroll past a picture of a delicious-looking hot drink without clicking the reblog button.
Mentioning all these types of pictures I like reminds me that a lot of people criticize Studyblr’s focus on aesthetics and argue that education is more than pictures of colourful post-its, beautiful handwriting, and perfect cappuccino foam. This is, of course, true – and I strongly believe that most members of the Studyblr community are aware of that. Nevertheless, I think that celebrating small moments of everyday life is something I consider an essential skill, especially in years like these were days otherwise might have the tendency to blur together in grey sameness.
All images are from Rosa’s Studyblr account and should not be used without Rosa’s consent.