Some showcase an enviable snowy window view, others are filmed under the dim light of a school library. Some include pitter-patter rain sounds blending into white noise in the background, others are edited to include lo-fi music. They’re called gongbang, or “study with me” videos. Like eating broadcasts (mukbang) and sleeping broadcasts, study with me videos occupy a niche corner of the internet that blurs the lines between entertainment and the ultra-mundane.
“There’s nothing special about my [videos]. I’m just grateful that the subscribers like my [videos],” Kim Dong-min, a vlogger who regularly posts study with me videos, told VICE. His channel blew up in quarantine, and he now has over 50,000 subscribers on YouTube.
One of Kim’s most popular videos, which has racked up over 370,000 views as of writing, shows him studying avidly in a public reading room, featuring the occasional background movement and sounds from his surroundings.
The 23-year-old University of Seoul student said that he used to watch study with me videos during long study sessions. He started making his own last summer, along with other vlogs, when he realized that studying was a big part of his daily life as a college student.
The sense of companionship provided by study with me videos is even more palpable during the COVID-19 pandemic. At the height of the pandemic last year, more than 1.3 billion students had to stay at home due to school closures. Even as students start streaming back to campuses, in-person classes have not gone back to full capacity and social distancing measures remain in place.
“Because of the coronavirus, most people around the world are studying alone at home. I think my video tells them that [they] are not alone,” Kim said.
Unlike regular vlogs, study with me videos feature raw clips of entire study sessions — this means unadulterated head-in-a-book footage. Most of these videos are two to four hours long, though there are some that go on for 10 or more hours. Many of them use the Pomodoro Technique, a time management method that portions work sessions into chunks, marked by periods of short rest.
The unique genre of study with me videos seems to have first gained traction in South Korea, but there are now prominent video creators across the world, including the United Kingdom, Argentina, and Singapore.
At first glance, these videos seem to share the same soothing ASMR appeal as South Korean “home cafe” videos and meditative homebody vlogs. Except instead of clinking ice cubes and ruffling bedsheets, these satisfy with therapeutic sounds from typing on keyboards and flipping paper pages.
Of course, there’s also the visual pleasure of seeing neatly arranged study materials laid out on spotless desks, and the deftly moving hands of studious video creators.
But study with me videos also serve an obvious practical purpose: helping people study. A browse through comments sections reveal tons of viewers playing such videos during their personal study sessions.
“Just knowing someone else is studying with me made these two hours more tolerable. Whenever I have a ‘study buddy’ with me, it really really helps me keep focused on what I'm doing,” commented a user on YouTube.
There are also study livestreams where viewers can converse in real time, which essentially feel like virtual study groups between strangers.
A popular Korean YouTuber who runs the channel “The man sitting next to me” told The Korea Herald that livestreamed study sessions provide motivation for both the viewers and streamers. It also allows for the sharing of study tips and words of encouragement among netizens.