The History of the “How-To” Genre


While film and online video might be relatively new in comparison, the concept behind the “how-to” video is extremely simple and because of this, very old. As it is literally defined, a “how-to” video is simply an instructional video on how to do something, and this idea perhaps stretches back as far as language itself. As time has passed and people have turned to one another, then to pictures and books as teaching tools, it only seems like a logical step that video as a part of the advent of digital technology would become a teaching tool as well.

As I mentioned during my first Digital Manifesto entry, the format to the “how-to” video is accessible enough that anyone can do it, but this also speaks to the philosophy behind the genre itself: there’s always something to learn (regardless of its value) and there’s always a teacher to teach that something. This also reveals that the original audience is us. Since “how-to” videos are fairly ubiquitous on YouTube and other online video providers, it has been difficult tracking down the original video, but even this serves as testimony to their supply and demand.

Interestingly enough, as a “YouTube” genre, “how-to” videos have yet to hit the silver screen. While there have been titles like How To Train Your Dragon for example, the often lack of narrative, characters or appealing aesthetic that accompany “how-to” videos seem to ground the genre specifically within the realm of non-commercial media, which is not say “how to” videos cannot go viral in the future, if they have not already. YouTube videos like “how to crush a can of dr. pepper with slats of wood” not only show the popularity these videos garner, but its growth as a genre to the point where videos are increasingly more self reflexive.

“how to crush a can of dr. pepper with slats of wood”