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
9781623563110

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.

9781628921380

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

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.

How the Chili Dog Transcended America’s Divisions

The national dish is really a fusion of immigrant fare. An Object Lesson.

by Christina Olson

The chili dog became a food laced with regional pride. It is one way that Americans identify themselves, a way to claim local citizenship. It’s ironic that a food descending directly from homogenization—a food that had to change itself to fit in—is now the same food regional fanatics hold up as uniquely local.

Read this essay at The Atlantic

How New Orleans’s Favorite Mardi Gras Cocktail Was Saved From Extinction

No one knows why Ojen became so popular in the city, but it has long been the party liqueur of choice. An Object Lesson.

by Anna C. Griggs

New Orleanians are famous for their boozy traditions: lax open container laws, the Go-Cup, and drive-thru daiquiris shops (to name but a few). They often despair in the disappearance of even the most minor culinary tradition. In Louisiana, to lose a tradition such as Ojen often means losing entire communities and ways of life.

Read this essay at The Atlantic

The Hidden History of the Laundry Chute

Stains, smells, secrets, thieves, dead bodies, and even a radioactive towel have all found their way down one. An Object Lesson.

by Sarah Minor

A laundry chute is a mythic domestic space. It’s an unwatched door to nowhere, the open throat of an old home. Its reputation has as much to do with convenience as with the early recognition that a house is not solid through and through. The laundry chute is a place where stains and embarrassing odors go to be erased, and dropping linen down the chute is a mnemonic for forgetting those embarrassments, for making such accidents invisible. Most of a laundry chute is sealed behind walls, and this covert quality draws people to encounter such items that laundry chutes are built explicitly to contain.

Read this essay at The Atlantic

The Heirloom Art of the Sewing Machine

Even after automation, sewing remains a craft that’s passed down through generations. An Object Lesson.

by Jocelyn Heath

Unlike humans—who produced natural variation by virtue of training, oversight, preference, or simple idiosyncrasy—the sewing machine could achieve uniformity, evenness, and consistency because its construction “trained” it to repeat endless copies of the desired stitch length. Previous generations would have seen the machine as lacking the care and precision of hand sewing; haste made waste in that the quality couldn’t equal that of a one-of-a-kind piece. But was the machine’s work inferior?

Read this essay at The Atlantic

The Camera Technology That Turned Films Into Stories

A modest invention that prevented celluloid from tearing helped make modern cinema. An Object Lesson.

by Henry Giardina

Before film was art, it was machinery. It took years for film to get the kind of legal protection that the other, more prestigious arts enjoyed. In the early days, it was technology, protectable only by patent. As a result, film, as a product, was strange and vulnerable, subject to duping, sabotage, and all kinds of strange patent traps set by Thomas Edison to keep independent filmmakers from gaining power.

Read this essay at The Atlantic

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