Instructables for teenagers: Virtual classroom, real bad design


A brainsuck, visualized.

Paging through the 600+ entries to Instructables’ 2013 Green Design Contest, I started getting seriously worried about the future of humanity — but not for the usual reason. For once, I wasn’t inclined to brood about how we were going to boil the planet and be forced to flee in ark ships. No, today a very different fate seemed to lie in store: Our whole species was simply going to get sucked into a collective cranial vacuum.

On a site that’s no stranger to slapdash b.s., the contest entries were even worse than usual. We’re talking drastically subhuman. One, “Reause Old Plastic Rap” [sic, like all misspellings that follow], read: “This instructables tells you how to make string from plastic rap that holds 8 lbs.” Under “Materials,” the creator wrote, “1 plastic rap 2 some one to help or vice.”

Another entry had four authors and was called simply “The New Can.” It went like this: “The New soda can uses. The first step is to cut off the top or bottom of the can. Be carful of the sharp edges of the can… In the third step you can puncture hole through the can with a sharp point.” Eventually it emerged that the project was meant to turn a can into a perforated lantern. The final product:


Transcendent. But also very strange. Why would four people come together to create this and post it on Instructables — especially when not a single one of them could write basic English?

There was also a galaxy of weird DIY misspellings: “vaneer,” “Dremmle,” “carboard,” “a exacta knife.”

Finally I got it — all thanks to Ryan, creator of the Recyclable Robo-Dancer.


“The reason I created this instructable is because I was assigned to make one by my geometry teacher,” Ryan revealed. “The goal was to construct an instructable which incorperated both mathematical geometry and the green theme.” Yep, these were high school homework assignments! A teacher or teachers somewhere got wind of this contest and decided to give the rest of us a taste of what it’s like to be surrounded by high school students all day. Well, NOW WE KNOW. And those teachers deserve every freaking dime.


…or maybe we should be making them pay us. What do you think the odds are that this project got a passing grade? “We then decided if people take interest in our instructable or artsy creation, we could end up promoting people to make art out of plastic thus keeping plastic out of landfills,”** Ryan explains.

A similar calculation lay behind this “Recycling Bin” by team Mathisfun. It’s sort of a… box.


In neutral or…green!


“We wanted to reduce our footprint on the Earth so we created a way to reuse things that leave a big impact on the environment. Making more of these recycling bins from wasted bottles could save the Earth from a lot of waste, which would reduce help save the Earth.” And more and more like that. It’s word salad, really. But, hey! With their ability to lard text with keywords, these kids have a guaranteed future in search engine optimization.

An entrant named Will created a terrarium from a soda bottle, noting, “This terrarium is helpful because all you have to do is put water in it and seal the cap and let it sit there.” He took the trouble to craft a how-to video to illustrate this process, and it was about as engaging and informative as you’d guess.


And yet the concept was so promising. Oh, well. I was more interested in Cel9ena’s tutorial on recycling old bottles into bracelet holders. Even in a sea of travesties slammed together by adolescent goof-offs, her creations stand apart. Their ugliness has a symphonic quality. Or maybe that’s the Christmas carols playing in the background of her video.


“It’s kind of like this blue, watery type of feel,” she says, holding up a Starbucks Frappuccino bottle filled with rice, Popsicle sticks and blue paint.


With feathers on top.


She spent a good chunk of the 9-minute video scrubbing the label off this beer bottle (now with feathers on top) to the tune of “Jingle Bell Rock.” Personally, I think that’s a great way for her to spend her time.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this virtual visit to the modern high school! Now, go home and turn your copy of “The Wall” into a cake stand.


**For a while, anyway.


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