This article is part of Watching YouTube, a Slate series about YouTube.
YouTube is a godsend for people who don’t know how to do things. The site is chock-full of how-to videos covering any and all conceivable activities, from mowing the lawn to removing your old lawn. There are also plenty of non-lawn-related videos out there. YouTube’s got it all.
Though I like to think I’m a generally capable person, there are a lot of things I could be doing better. I could be more productive. I could stand to improve my hygiene. I could learn to do lawn … things. So, in my quest for self-improvement, I spent an entire day watching YouTube tutorials, giving myself over to online guides on how to do every single thing I had to do on Wednesday.
I began my day by searching the phrase “how to get out of bed.” The first video that came up was titled “How to Get Out of Bed.” A good omen!
The trick to getting out of bed, according to this video, is to mock yourself for your lazy lethargy until you feel so embarrassed that you cannot help but rise. “Are you a wuss, Justin Peters? A wuss who can’t get out of bed and who spends too much time in the trainers’ room because of his stress fracture?” I asked myself, affecting the tone of some of the many sports coaches I have known and disliked in my day. The strategy worked: I got out of bed, much earlier than I usually rise. The day was already a success.
Next on my to-do list: take a shower. As anyone who has ever met me knows, I love showers. But I’m a self-taught shower taker; I never really had the chance to formally study the discipline. The video I watched, “How to Properly Take a Shower,” broke it down into seven separate steps. This was very helpful, as my normal shower routine consists of one single step: take a shower. Insufficient! A proper shower, according to YouTube user Teachingmensfashion, involves deep cleaning, careful scrubbing, and exhorting the people watching at home to buy the skin care products for sale at the link in the video description.
I tried my best to follow the video’s advice: I brought the shower to the appropriate temperature, I worked my way down my body from my head to my toes, and I moisturized after the shower ended. I didn’t have the fancy skin brushes the how-to expert was using, though, so I compromised by using a fingernail scrub brush on my back and shoulders. This was probably a mistake. Still, it was a good shower!
After brushing my teeth with the help of Dr. Joe from Evanston Dental—“don’t rush when you brush”—and getting dressed with the help of a children’s video titled “This Is the Way We Get Dressed,” it was time to get down to work. I work from home, which can make productivity a challenge. But I’d given myself a noon deadline to file a big story I’d been working on for months, and I wanted to meet that deadline. A search under the phrase “how to focus” brought up a video titled “How to Study With INTENSE Focus – 7 Essential Tips.” Seven tips, just like the shower! This was the stuff I needed!
Look at how intense Thomas Frank looks! Truly, if anyone were to help me focus on my work, it would be productivity expert Thomas Frank. (Take that, What’s the Matter With Kansas? author Thomas Frank!) “The question we want to answer today is: How do you achieve that ability to work with that blistering intensity like [some random guy he just mentioned] did?” Frank said. The first two tips emphasized picking a single task and holding your work session sacred. “When you sit down to do your work and you’ve chosen your one task, only work on that task,” he said. “Don’t do anything before it, even if it’s light, even if it’s checking your email, even if it’s watching a little video on YouTube.” Great advice. I turned off the video and got down to work.
A couple of hours later, I finished the story and sent it to my editor via the messaging program Slack. (I use Slack every day, but nevertheless watched a video titled “Slack Tutorial: How to Slack Like a Pro in Less Than 5 Minutes” before sending my message. This video was very unhelpful, and mostly consisted of teaching me keyboard shortcuts that I will never use.) My first big task of the day was over! It was time for a break.
Since Monday, I’ve been mourning the death of Harry Anderson, the actor and magician best known for his work on Night Court. I could think of no better way to honor him than by learning a magic trick that I would execute poorly and forget within days. I spent months during my senior year of college trying to master several coin tricks, much to my friends’ annoyance—senioritis is a real phenomenon, people—and I was looking forward to revisiting one of my old hobbies. So I watched a video called “How to Do the Pinch Coin Vanish,” featuring “celebrity magician” Matt Wayne—his website: www.celebritymagician.com—and tried to get back in the game.
The Pinch Coin Vanish is hardly a trick at all, which is perhaps why Wayne is able to teach it in one minute and 21 seconds. You hold a coin between your left thumb and pointer finger, and pass your right hand over your left as if you are grabbing the coin. When you open your right hand, it looks like the coin has vanished. But it hasn’t! It’s just been pinched between your left two fingers! “And there you go! You’ve performed the pinch vanish,” said Wayne. Shows how much he knows! I barely performed it at all!
All this magic was making me thirsty, so I went to get a drink. Last night, I went to the store and bought a bottle of matcha green tea to drink this afternoon. But when I opened my refrigerator, I found that the green tea was gone. Clearly, my sister—we live together—was the one who drank it. I immediately searched YouTube for “how to deal with your sister.”
A video titled “How to Deal With an Annoying Younger Sibling” looked very promising, so I loaded it up. It was made by two children, but sometimes kids are wise. “Do you have an annoying little brother or sister who’s a pain sometimes?” the older sister asked. Yes I do!
“If they mess with your stuff, then just hide your stuff,” the girl advised. Too late for that! The second tip—make a deal with your sibling to stop annoying you—seemed more promising. “Just bribe them with some candy,” she suggested. If that didn’t work, she said, you should give her a project to do, like drawing you a picture. I immediately texted my sister.
(Note: I took this screenshot after watching a video titled “How to Take a Screen Shot of a Text Message on iPhone.”)
My sister called me immediately. “Why are you asking me these things?” she asked. I parried her question and moved on to the next strategy my young instructor had suggested. “Would you like me to put on a video for you?” I asked. “What?” she said. “No. I’m at work.” “Fine!” I said, and ended the call. Younger siblings!
I still needed some tea, so I decided to brew some of my own. This is a bigger step than it might seem—I lived in this apartment for two years before I even bothered to activate the cooking gas. But YouTube can help even the most helpless people, so I launched a video titled “How to Brew a Perfect Cup of Tea With Teabags, by Tea Taster Dominic Marriott.” This was the most pedigreed video I had watched all day.
“The first thing you should do is take your tea bag and put it in your cup. Some people would actually like to warm this cup first, so that it will help the tea brew.” Great tip, but I had no idea how to warm a teacup without a microwave, which I don’t have. Can you put a teacup in the oven? According to the robot narrator of this brief video, titled “Can You Put a Coffee Cup in the Oven?”, yes, you can put a coffee cup in the oven. So, I set the oven to 200 degrees, stuck the cup on the lowest rack, and started boiling some water—freshly boiled, as per Tea Taster Dominic Marriott’s specifications. I withdrew my hot cup, poured the water over the bag, covered the cup with a pan lid, and let it brew for three minutes. “And there again is your perfect cup of tea,” Marriott concluded. I ended up burning my tongue.
My stress levels were rising, so I decided to do some yoga. I haven’t done yoga since 2005, when I threw out my back during an early-morning session and was immobile for a week, but I thought it was high time to give it another go. To that end, I scheduled a 20-minute beginner session with Adriene.
When I first started this YouTube blog, multiple people at Slate mentioned how much they adored Yoga With Adriene. After watching “Yoga for Complete Beginners—20 Minute Home Yoga Workout!” I can see why she’s so popular. Calmly and nonjudgmentally, she led me—and, cumulatively, 15,753,214 other people—through a low-impact yoga session that emphasized deep breathing, light stretching, body alignment, and some simple poses with no pressure to “get them right.” By the end of the session, I felt calmed and centered, and, unlike my last yoga experience, I was not writing in pain on the floor. Thanks, Yoga With Adriene. I’ll be seeing more of you, I’m sure.
With my chakras aligned—that’s some “yoga speak” for all of you “normies” out there—I decided to get down to the serious business of writing up my findings and filing this story with the help of the video “Writing News Articles.”
“Alright, welcome again, ladies and gentlemen from Mr. Beckett’s class. I hope everyone is OK and they’re surviving Hurricane Sandy,” the narrator said. The classic vlogger move: speaking directly to the audience and relating to them on a personal level. I was in the hands of a master.
This was good advice. I resolved to stick to the facts and to emphasize the inverted pyramid in my story structure, leading with the most important fact—YouTube contains a lot of how-to videos—and then following up with less important details, such as the fact that I own an oven. If I had watched this video instead of going to journalism school, I could have saved a year of my life and lots and lots of money. But you know what you can’t put a price tag on? The memories. (Sadly, a YouTube search for “how to remember journalism school” turned up no relevant results, so I am unable to access those memories and share them with you today. I also just remembered I don’t have a lawn.)
With the article written, it was time to prepare for its publication. “The concept of evaluating articles by experts in the field continues to be a popular practice,” the narrator of “How to Get Published #01—Preparing Your Manuscript” announced. This idea made sense to me, so I sent this story to my editor. “Got it,” he said. Thanks, YouTube!