I'll admit it: I'm one of those people who watches cooking, painting, sewing and home improvement videos with little intention of ever doing any of the tasks portrayed. But just because I'm not building a house based on video instructions, like this woman and her family did, doesn't mean I'm wasting my time.
Just like some people obsessively watch shows like "The OA," feverishly taking notes and chatting about theories on Reddit, others use some programs — even the most addictive shows — as background while they study or make dinner. DIY videos aren't that much different; we all have different reasons for watching them. Looking at the videos above and below, some might be inspired to make their own Swedish Princess Cake, while others might simply enjoy watching because it's a reminder of cakes from the past. (And I'm sure my partner would end up thinking about what changes he might make to the recipe — with no real plans to actually bake anything.)
DIY as therapy
DIY videos are just relaxing, like Slow TV. But unlike landscapes or crackling fires, these crafting videos are for people who want to learn something while they chill out. “I think it’s more of a calming thing. They just get hypnotized. I always watch those nail videos; I find them so therapeutic. But I would never do my own nails," cake artist Laura Shannon told The Ringer.
Learning the steps and process of creating something you're unfamiliar with has another great benefit; it can help you see things from a new perspective in other areas. This cross-pollination effect is one of my own favorite reasons for watching practical "how to" videos — I'll often see a solution for, say, storing jewelry that could apply to my plants, or something in a painting video that helps me solve a problem in my personal life. Sometime letting your mind go into a new subject can reframe the old.
DIY as confidence booster
As to their intended effect — to help other people make things — they can be more effective than you might think. I watched cooking videos for years, even as I continued to order out for food or throw together another sandwich or salad.
But slowly but surely over the course of years, I started cooking more, and when I was finally standing in front of a recipe with a pile of ingredients, I felt more confidence about making a dish than I had before I'd watched hundreds of videos: I had better knife skills, using totally different slicing and chopping methods than I had before (these I must have unconsciously absorbed). I also had a better idea of what things should look like during the cooking or baking process, like what browned butter looks like in the pan or what "wet" dough looks like compared to "dry." All of those little details, from proficiency with tools to understanding what intermediary steps look like, can give confidence to the still-learning cook.
The plethora and popularity of DIY videos is also about trusted resources, and having a video available when you Google it can help you move at your own pace. It takes some of the natural anxiety out of a situation if your teacher is there when you need him. Learning how to do new things is best taught by an expert, I would still argue, but many of us don't have the resources for cooking class or carpentry lessons. Just knowing that there are people out there available at any time to help us through a step, even if we have to watch a minute of video over and over again, can lead to empowerment.
If you think about it, it's actually an incredibly generous act, from one human to another, to make DIY videos so freely available.
So I don't have any guilt watching a stranger show me how to build a bookcase; I may not need a new bookcase tomorrow, but eventually I will, and when that day comes, I'll have a good idea of how to do it, where to go for information, and some sense of how long it will take me and how difficult it is. And that's invaluable.