Contemplating Friday: Misadventures With the Online Tutorial

I once fixed my dishwasher using an online tutorial. I can’t tell you how proud I was! Then an acquaintance told me that he was building his house that way. He knew nothing about construction, he said. But he was following the advice of how-to videos and the house was coming along nicely.

I was impressed, and I wondered: could online tutorials improve my typical day?

The next morning I clicked on How to Make Very Instant Coffee and watched an adolescent pour instant granules into a friend’s mouth, tell him to swallow, then hand him a cup of cold water. Not a great start. But a little more digging found a plethora of good sites. Courser grounds make stronger coffee! Don’t overheat the beans while grinding! A pinch of salt in the water takes away bitterness! Coffee had been an arena I thought I understood thoroughly. How wrong I was. I set off to work on my bike, humbled and well-caffeinated.

Once at the office, how should I lock my bike? Turns out bike people chatter a lot. But you get no excess banter from the Northumbria cops, who were kind enough to share their expertise. I learned to lock the back wheel and frame low down with a U-bar (the smaller the better — less room to pry it off) and use a chunky chain to catch the less-expensive front wheel (because thieves, at least British ones, often carry only one tool).

At my desk I type in “How to Ask For A Raise.” There was much hocus-pocus: Ask for a raise on a Thursday. Use a forward body posture — it conveys confidence and power. And something a little disturbing: women who wear lipstick are more likely to get a raise. This was a better video.

It was still light out when I got off work. Wouldn’t it be a great time to throw a Frisbee with friends? Too bad I didn’t own a Frisbee. Still, I was giddy. All these newfound skills! Soon I would be able to build a house.

None of the videos had warned me about hubris. Now it was rearing its cunning head. But I was so enraptured with my soaring competence I failed to notice.

That evening I watched a slew of tutorials, from makeup application to workouts. Just as I was learning to open my locked front door with just a paperclip, the paperclip broke off in the lock. Frantic, I searched for instruction on how to reverse my mistake.

So far nothing has worked. The tiny sliver, just visible, seems to mock my enthusiasm to better myself. But I’ll continue to search the computer, because I know the tutorial is there, just waiting for me to find it.

Caroline Paul is the author of “East Wind, Rain” and “Fighting Fire.” Her latest book is “The Lost Cat,” an illustrated collaboration with Wendy MacNaughton. Find out more at and

Caroline Paul and Wendy MacNaughton
Caroline Paul is the author of "East Wind, Rain" and "Fighting Fire," and she co-wrote "Lost Cat: A True Story of Love, Desperation and GPS Technology" with her partner Wendy MacNaughton. MacNaughton's illustrations have appeared in The New York Times, Juxtapoz, and Print Magazine. "Lost Cat" was inspired by the curious disappearances of their beloved Tibia.
Caroline Paul and Wendy MacNaughton
Tags: Downtime,Gadgets & Devices,Tech Culture