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And we’re (a)live: stationery streaming during Covid-19

It’s 11 am on a Tuesday in the Philippines but 30-year-old associate professor Uni Chua has some time to spare. So she’s live on streaming platform Twitch. She just finished greeting a modest number of early viewers to her stream and switched her second video feed on.

But it’s not a video game. Nor was it ASMR.  And it wasn’t a walking tour either. It’s an overhead view of her table.

She’s streaming stationery.

“My desk is a mess.”

There’s a handful of fountain pens in one corner, and a couple of washi tape rolls on another. Two stamps are in the middle with a pair of ink boxes under them. She then shows her matcha-espresso drink before going through “a bunch of stuff” that she got in the past few weeks.

Uni, who teaches computer science, first streamed mukbang sessions with her sisters. Then tried stationery streaming when she encountered a group doing just that.

Uni is one of 34 streamers under Stationery Brew, a Twitch team of hobbyists that she met who would broadcast their haul and how they use them. It is a relatively new niche on a platform known for hosting a wide array of broadcast topics, from the latest online games and food adventures to the borderline sexual hot tub streams.

In stationery streams, some would sketch and test inks while others would decorate journal spreads. What goes in front of the camera is up to whoever is streaming. For Uni, she aims to be “intentional” with her journaling.

“Streaming on Twitch has been a good escape from my full-time job as an educator and also a sort of accountability for using my journals, pens, inks, and other stationery things,” said Uni, who also just started on her PhD journey. “At the same time, live streaming during this pandemic has helped me gain friends from across the globe and it has made being stuck at home less stressful and lonely.”

Uni has also streamed while playing Genshin Impact and Among Us.

Since Covid-19 has restricted physical movement globally, people went online to address different types of interpersonal needs. A Wall Street Journal story in August 2020 chronicled professionals such as chefs, coaches, and performers who turned to live streaming to meet new people while possibly earning on the side.

Musicians have also turned to stream live concerts online out of necessity, a phenomenon that is here to stay according to a Time story.

Read: Pen-demic collecting

Statista reports that the number of active Twitch streamers doubled globally from 3.94 million in January 2020 to 7.21 million by April 2020 at the height of pandemic-related lockdowns. It hit its all-time high of 9.89 million in January 2021 before dropping to around 8 million just this September.

“People are looking for a way to connect,” said Michael Aragon, senior vice president of content of Twitch, in the Wall Street Journal report. The same is very much true for stationery streamers.

Real-time audience interaction sets live-streaming apart from podcasting, another media production format that has also seen growth during the pandemic. Aside from giving subscriptions and bits that have corresponding monetary value, viewers can freely discuss on chat. In an intimate stream such as Uni’s, all comments get noticed.

“Since it’s happening live, it feels like you’re sharing it with friends together,” she explained,

“Sometimes I get flustered and don’t really follow the agenda and things sometimes get derailed. But it helps that the chat is there to guide and also keep the conversations going,” said Uni. Most of her live viewers are from the US and UK, but more Asians are watching recently.

Vlogging or video would also take time and skill to edit, added Uni, while it can be challenging to be visual in podcasting. “With livestreaming, I can simply set aside time, make mistakes on stream but also get the audience to ask questions and discuss the items together.”

One time, she spilled fountain pen inks on her table. Then she dropped and broke a glass pen in another. But instead of being bummed out, it became a funny memory to talk about. “For both times, chat was very supportive and asked me how I was! I even made an ink spill emote for the channel,” said Uni.

The pandemic may have restricted in-person gatherings, but people have found digital ways to stay connected with current contacts and even create new ones. While some professionals have seen live-streaming as an income-generating channel, some streamers like Uni are simply in it to catch a break.

“It’s also the audience involvement that makes live streaming more fun,” said Uni. “You feel as if you have people there with you as you journal, swatch inks, or unbox a haul.

Catch Uni’s stream on Twitch and check out her Instagram @sushi.plans. Learn more about her in an interview with The Pen Noobs Podcast which you can listen to on Spotify or watch on YouTube.