Fresh­ers look to lap­tops for life lessons

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - Front Page -

Ri­fling through a wel­come pack on my first night at univer­sity, I found a bizarre ar­ray of items that stu­dents in the years above had deemed es­sen­tial for the week ahead. At the top lay two stu­dent-union-branded con­doms, guar­an­teed to take the fizz out of any fresh­per­son’s fling. Then there was a tiny packet of Golden Won­der crisps, a packet of Love Hearts and leaflets im­plor­ing me to join im­plau­si­ble so­ci­eties from bell ring­ing to his­tor­i­cal re-en­act­ment. At the bot­tom, ap­par­ently as an af­ter­thought, there was a soli­tary wash­ing-up sponge.

The sponge was the sole con­ces­sion to prac­ti­cal­ity. Yet, no mat­ter how great our com­pe­tence on the sub­ject of Plato or Pythago­ras, when it came to ev­ery­day life we were clue­less. My co­hort di­vided be­tween the in­trepid, whose se­ries of dis­as­trous ex­per­i­ments left our kitchen cov­ered in scorch marks, and the less ad­ven­tur­ous, who would make em­bar­rass­ing calls to mum, plead­ing for the se­cret of cook­ing pasta.

As a new in­take of stu­dents set­tles in to univer­sity, they are be­gin­ning to grap­ple with the same ques­tions – but will find the an­swers much more read­ily. Rather than rum­mag­ing through self-help books or re­sort­ing to trial and er­ror, to­day’s teenagers are find­ing a wealth of prac­ti­cal ad­vice on the video-shar­ing web­site YouTube.

“We used YouTube for ev­ery­thing,” ex­plains Lind­sey Noakes, who has re­cently fin­ished a ge­og­ra­phy de­gree at Bris­tol. “It was our first port of call. We had for­mal din­ners twice a term where we wore black tie. All of the boys turned up with their din­ner jack­ets but no

one had any idea how to tie a bow tie. We all crammed into one per­son’s room in our halls with the girls try­ing to tie the boys’ bow ties. We had one per­son’s lap­top play­ing the video [] over and over again for an hour to make sure we got it right.”

Some of the tu­ition avail­able is alarm­ingly ba­sic, from a fool­proof 2½-minute guide to us­ing a tin opener ( to dead­pan in­struc­tions for ty­ing your shoelaces ( But other videos are far more ad­vanced.

“Stu­dent friends of mine proudly posted on Face­book that af­ter ages with­out an oven – and ra­dio si­lence from their land­lord – they’d di­ag­nosed the prob­lem, or­dered a cheap part online and fixed it, all with the help of YouTube,” says Lucy Tobin, au­thor of A Guide to Uni Life. She says stu­dents’ at­ti­tudes have changed in the five years since she grad­u­ated from Ox­ford in 2008.

“I was ut­terly clue­less when I went off to univer­sity,” she says. “My dad, a char­tered sur­veyor, was con­stantly get­ting calls: where’s the fuse box? How come we’ve got no hot wa­ter? How do you bleed a ra­di­a­tor? My­mum was bom­barded with ques­tions about how she’d ac­tu­ally made all those meals that had mag­i­cally ap­peared on the kitchen ta­ble over the past 18 years. Now stu­dents like to work out how to do things them­selves.”

Stu­dents’ YouTube in­struc­tion be­gins with clean­ing. There is a six-minute step-by-step guide to the wash­ing-up (, cov­er­ing “don­ning Marigold gloves” and the cor­rect or­der of wash­ing. Grate­ful view­ers have la­belled the tu­tor, Eric, a “washin­gup king” in the com­ments be­low. For stu­dents keen to avoid the cliché of a mount­ing pile of laun­dry wait­ing for par­ents to col­lect at the end of term, there is a video ex­plain­ing how to use a wash­ing ma­chine ( If stains stub­bornly refuse to budge, a com­pre­hen­sive guide gives a tu­to­rial on get­ting wax out of clothes (

The tongue-in-cheek “iron­ing for men” video ( in­structs view­ers that the es­sen­tials for the task in­clude an iron, iron­ing board, a bot­tle of gin and cig­a­rettes. “First, you need to make sure the shirt has been washed,” the host help­fully in­forms us. “The best way is to take a sniff un­der the arm.” For more-prac­ti­cal tu­ition, TM Lewin has pro­duced a guide to iron­ing a shirt “prop­erly” in three min­utes (

There are also sev­eral reme­dies for iron­ing mishaps. “My boyfriend man­aged to burn his very cheap suit trousers on to the iron and couldn’t get the black gunk off,” says Noakes. “So I looked up how to do it. The best way is to heat up the iron, get a piece of pa­per and put sea salt on it. You iron the salt and it rubs off the gunk but doesn’t scratch the iron.”

Fresh­ers of­ten gain a tem­po­rary re­prieve from DIY by liv­ing in halls, where col­lege handy­men act as sur­ro­gate par­ents, for their first year, but once they move out they soon dis­cover a range of online mas­ter­classes. In one, an in­tim­i­dat­ing Ir­ish­woman ex­plains how to put up a cur­tain pole (, and in another, more am­bi­tious stu­dents are taken through lin­ing their cur­tains (

There are also videos to be found that tackle putting up a shelf (bit. ly/15kTIAS), chang­ing a

light bulb ( and fix­ing a bi­cy­cle punc­ture ( For stu­dents on a re­ally tight bud­get, there is even ad­vice on how to cut your own hair (

The in­ter­net has also made stu­dent cook­books re­dun­dant, and teenagers no longer rely on a few recipes handed down from home. “My mum is a very good cook but she is not very good at ex­plain­ing things,” says Noakes. “She just says, ‘Chuck in a hand­ful of that, stir it a bit and it will be fine.’ I needed some­thing a lit­tle bit more step-by-step.”

Noakes learnt how to make eggfried rice (; but there is also un­judg­men­tal tu­ition on boil­ing an egg ( Even Delia Smith has em­braced this method as “the best way to teach peo­ple to cook”, aban­don­ing tele­vi­sion shows in favour of the in­ter­net. The Delia Online Cook­ery School (deliaon­ fea­tures dozens of videos cov­er­ing ev­ery­thing from pre­par­ing gar­lic to roast­ing beef.

And while one house­mate props open a lap­top next to the stove, another can mix the drinks. Stand­ing in front of a well-stocked bar, mixol­o­gist Allen Katz ex­plains how to make the per­fect mar­tini (, get­ting the quan­ti­ties of gin and dry ver­mouth right for a won­der­ful “crisp fin­ish”. There are also use­ful videos for pina co­lada (bit. ly/1fadxiG) and mo­ji­tos (bit. ly/v07gM).

The next morn­ing, teenagers do not even have to get out of bed to look up the “sci­en­tific” hang­over cure (, which rec­om­mends eggs, bananas and fruit juice for break­fast as well as wa­ter and as­pirin be­fore bed. Once they can stom­ach mov­ing around, there are handy tips for get­ting red wine out of a car­pet (

With such prac­ti­cal ad­vice online, par­ents may won­der if their chil­dren will ever call them again. Tobin, how­ever, says they need not worry. “Stu­dents like to self-pro­mote and ap­pear to flour­ish in ev­ery as­pect of life af­ter qui­etly watch­ing ‘how-tos’ on YouTube,” she says, “but when they get dumped or fail a mod­ule, YouTube won’t get in the car and drive for hours just to give

them a hug.”

Es­sen­tial tu­to­ri­als: find ‘how-tos’ on ev­ery­thing from ty­ing a bow tie, top, to mas­ter­ing the art of wash­ing up, above, on video-shar­ing web­site YouTube

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