Object Lessons

Object Lessons is an essay and book series about the hidden lives of ordinary things, from ....

Series Editors: Ian Bogost and Christopher Schaberg

"The Object Lessons series achieves something very close to magic: the books take ordinary—even banal—objects and animate them with a rich history of invention, political struggle, science, and popular mythology. Filled with fascinating details and conveyed in sharp, accessible prose, the books make the everyday world come to life. Be warned: once you've read a few of these, you'll start walking around your house, picking up random objects, and musing aloud: 'I wonder what the story is behind this thing?'"

—Steven Johnson, bestselling author of How We Got to Now

"In 1957 the French critic and semiotician Roland Barthes published Mythologies, a groundbreaking series of essays in which he analysed the popular culture of his day, from laundry detergent to the face of Greta Garbo, professional wrestling to the Citroën DS. Object Lessons continues the tradition."

—Melissa Harrison, Financial Times

Object Lessons

Remote Control

by Caetlin Benson-Allott

While we all use remote controls, we understand little about their history or their impact on our daily lives. This book offers lively analyses of the remote control’s material and cultural history to explain how such an innocuous media accessory can change the way we occupy our houses, interact with our families, and experience the world. From the first wired radio remotes of the 1920s to infrared universal remotes, from the homemade TV controllers to the Apple Remote, remote controls shape our media devices and how we live with them.

Golf Ball

by Harry Brown

This book explores the composition, history, kinetic life, and the long senescence of golf balls, which may outlive their hitters by a thousand years, in places far beyond our reach. They embody our efforts to impose our will on the land, whether the local golf course or the Moon, but their unpredictable spin, bounce, and roll often defy our control. Despite their considerable technical refinements, golf balls reveal the futility of control. They inevitably disappear in plain sight and find their way into hazards. Golf balls play with people.

Drone

by Adam Rothstein

Drones are in the newspaper, on the TV screen, and swarming through the networks. But what are drones? The word encompasses everything from toys to weapons. And yet, as broadly defined as they are, the word “drone” fills many of us with a sense of technological dread. This book will cut through the mystery, the unknown, and the political posturing, and talk about what drones really are: what technologies are out there, and what’s coming next; how drones are talked about, and how they are represented in popular culture. It turns out that drones are not as scary as they appear—but they are more complicated than you might expect. In drones, we find strange relationships that humans are forming with their new technologies.

The Jet Engine Is a Futuristic Technology Stuck in the Past

Rockets and turbofans have promised to realize dreams of transportation progress—for decades.

by Christopher Schaberg

Turbofan engines offer an audible reminder of the paradox of progress. As much as people may want to experience new things, they have to use old tools and means to do so.

Read this essay at The Atlantic

The Case for Locking Up Your Smartphone

Lockers and sleeves for phones can feel like an infringement on personal rights, but they also might save people from their worst habits.

by Marcel O'Gorman

Given that the mere presence of one’s smartphone can reduce cognitive capacity, Yondr offers a way to surf between the waves of a device’s presence and absence. You can hold it, but you can’t use it.

Read this essay at The Atlantic

My Pacemaker Is Tracking Me From Inside My Body

Cloud-connected medical devices save lives, but also raise questions about privacy, security, and oversight.

by Neta Alexander

Health providers can review my data from afar, and unauthorized hackers might have access to it, too. But it proved surprisingly difficult to access these medical records myself.

Read this essay at The Atlantic

The Accidental Poison That Founded the Modern FDA

Elixir Sulfanilamide was a breakthrough antibiotic—until it killed more than 100 people.

by Julian G. West

The FFDCA protected the public from unsafe medications, but its limitations quickly became apparent.

Read this essay at The Atlantic

Does ‘Counting Your Blessings’ Work?

Doing so has appealed to people for centuries, but the power of a gratitude list can be misused.

by Sonya Huber

As the gratitude trend spreads, the practice can feel compulsory.

Read this essay at The Atlantic

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