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The TikTok generation’s stationery obsession: Creative calligraphy notes for aesthetes

The online subculture defines a philosophy that goes beyond social networks. In the age of screens, a new audience is drawn to pen and paper

Close-up of agenda organize with color-coding sticky notes
Close-up of an agenda with 'post-it' notes and colored notes. Organization, productivity and stationery products have found a perfect showcase on social networks.Olga PS (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The terms studygram, lettering or bullet journal are alien to most people. But on social networks like TikTok, these concepts refer to an entire life philosophy. On the video platform, the cult of stationery products has given rise to a community of young people who share a variety of videos about organization and office supplies. Some offer note-taking tips to make studying more enjoyable. Others share knowledge in the form of calligraphy tutorials or tips to organize your day, week or month in carefully decorated notebooks.

The content is as recognizable by its hashtags as by its distinctive aesthetic. The stationery material always appears neatly organized on desks that could forever banish the cliché of the messy teenager. The colors and composition of each post, usually composed of pastel color palettes, are impeccable.

The appearance of order can produce a certain sensation of calm and tranquility, like the one sought with ASMR videos — where the protagonist is sound — that populate the internet, as explained by Teresa Terol, health psychologist and host of the podcast Brave Mind. “We live in a state of hyperstimulation, which means that our brain constantly has to evaluate the environment because it is chaotic and changing. Anything that is monotonous, and routines that simply do not require mental energy to analyze, can generate a feeling of calm,” she affirms. She adds that, from a psychological point of view, “for the mind, often less is more. The mind likes what is predictable because it does not have to work through the anticipatory anxiety system.”

While the slowdown in the growth of Meta (the parent company of Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp) has led to the dismissal of 13% of the business’s workforce, TikTok is positioned as the most promising social network in terms of new users. It wants to double the number of employees. In addition, it is the network of choice for young users. According to the platform’s own data, more than half (54%) of European university students use the platform.

One of those students is Paula, a student who creates content under the name of Wondernotes. “I publish content related to the student’s life, organization, school supplies, lettering,” she explains. Social networks have allowed her to share her longtime passion with a community of thousands of people. She posts on Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok. Although she occasionally makes money off of brand collaborations, for now, it’s just a hobby. Her desk sports dozens of markers, arranged by color in transparent glasses. “My interest in this world began when I was little. My stationery collection began to grow a long time ago. Everything that I have been accumulating, added to the material that I have been able to obtain thanks to different collaborations, means that as a whole it easily has more than 500 pieces,” says the TikToker, who has almost 180,000 followers.

The content, denoted by hashtags including “studygram,” is defined by its creativity. Ideas on visually pleasing note-taking feed viewers’ desire to study. Views of videos on bullet journals also number in the millions. As Paula explains, the bullet journal is “a notebook made by you, which you use as a diary or to organize yourself.” Videos on organizational strategies, closely related to productivity, also receive growing follower bases around the world. The tips are meant to help find motivation against procrastination, but they can be counterproductive if done obsessively.

Among the stationery world’s sub-themes, lettering or calligraphy, made with markers and pens of all kinds, stands out. The craft’s success in the age of screens and digitization may not be a coincidence. “There are studies that suggest that it reduces anxiety as much as mindfulness does. Working manually is not the same as using a computer. There is a much more present connection when writing by hand. In addition, lettering also encourages attention and concentration,” says Teresa Terol. Taking into account that attention decreases while using the Internet —some studies indicate that if a content is not interesting, users pay attention for less than five seconds— calligraphy as a manual task can be almost therapeutic.

The revitalization of stationery beyond screens

The growing interest in stationery products is not limited to the TikTok generation. Its popularity led Zara Home to launch La Papelería, a collection in collaboration with the French design studio Saint Lazare, at the end of October. The colorful pieces are inspired by a vintage aesthetic.

Papelería Berno has also found that retro-look stationery sells. This is how Ignacio Delgado, the third generation in charge of the business located in the Madrid neighborhood of Narváez-Ibiza, explains it: “There is more interest. I think that the old and vintage are gaining more importance in every sense. Stationery items, especially in a traditional store like ours, are increasingly valued by the public. Often they say things like ‘I love the smell of this store,’ or they tell us about the old wooden furniture that we have kept since we opened.”

A little over a year ago, the store Bomagui opened its doors in Conde Duque, Madrid. The shop specializes in vintage-inspired items from different parts of Spain and Europe. Traditional stationery stores, like any small business, coexist today with powerful rivals: large online sales platforms or stationery brands that offer online shopping. New businesses have emerged that direct their products towards an audience interested in specialized stationery where design matters as much or more than functionality.

The Madrid online store Likely launched 2016 to sell “designer stationery.” It currently sells Asian, European, American and Spanish stationery brands. “Social networks have contributed a lot to the popularity of the sector. That love for stationery that so many of us have has become palpable, since communities of people have been formed who share their desks and their day-to-day work or study,” says Rita Gallego, the shop’s founder, about the stationery world’s presence in the digital universe. The online platform has little common with the offerings of traditional stationery stores.

In Gallego’s opinion, “traditional stationers do one more job on a day-to-day basis.” She adds that, where appropriate, they strive to include among their proposals designs from “iconic brands, with a long tradition, as well as small brands that have creative designs and innovative ideas in terms of quality, materials and sustainability.”

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