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.

Why Do People Sign Yearbooks?

Commemorative class books evolved from practical notebooks into collections of hair clippings, rhyming couplets, and “have a great summer” wishes.

by Jennifer Billock

The practice had evolved from commonplace books, a Renaissance tradition of compiling important and memorable information into bound sheets of paper. Students were encouraged to keep the books during class, and eventually they became a place to store anything and everything their owners found interesting—including the signatures of other classmates.

Read this essay at The Atlantic

Teaching Sobriety With ‘The Bottle’

Before and after Prohibition, temperance organizations turned the whiskey or beer vessel into a personification of American moral failure.

by Hannah C. Griggs

As the nation’s formerly dry stances on alcohol softened after Prohibition’s repeal in 1933, the whiskey bottle became a powerful symbol and pedagogical tool for the staunchly anti-alcohol advocates of the temperance movement.

Read this essay at The Atlantic

How the 50-mm Lens Became ‘Normal’

It’s often called the optic that best approximates human vision, but approximation is relative.

by Allain Daigle

Today, the lens represents a struggle between objectivity and relativism. Metaphorically, people look through critical lenses, cultural lenses, political lenses, and historical lenses. We zoom in and out on things, we frame them, we change lenses, we focus. The metaphor highlights how people adopt multiple viewpoints that, in turn, change how they see and think about the world.

Read this essay at The Atlantic

98 Years of Mail Fraud

How the postal letter became a tool for ingenious criminality.

by Simon R. Gardner

It didn’t take long for criminals to realize that the rise of the postal service also created opportunity for exploitation. Crime could suddenly be carried out from afar, with relative anonymity.

Read this essay at The Atlantic

Cupholders Are Everywhere

As people spent more and more time in cars, auto interiors transformed into living spaces, where food and drink became necessities.

by Nancy A. Nichols

Cupholders began as an afterthought, mere circular indents on the inside of the door of the glove compartment, but they have become an absolute necessity and a key feature that shoppers evaluate when purchasing a new car, even for a time supplanting fuel efficiency as a consumer’s most sought-after attribute.

Read this essay at The Atlantic

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