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 Bootleg Video Vans of the Soviet Union

I learned English—and Western culture—watching American movies in smoky minibuses.

by Elmar Hashimov

In the U.S.S.R. of the 1980s, as Brezhnev’s stagnation mutated into Gorbachev’s perestroika, the Soviet people started peering out from behind the Iron Curtain at the tantalizing opulence of Western popular culture. It wasn’t unusual for a few government-approved (and heavily sanitized) Hollywood movies to show up in local theaters in Mother Russia and her 14 children-states.

Read this essay at The Atlantic

The Star of Norwegian Knitwear

The selburose design wasn’t invented in Norway, but it became a symbol of the country.

by Emma Sarappo

You’ve surely seen the selburose before: It’s knit into sweaters, featured on those mittens, seen at the Olympics, and printed on leggings and drink cozies. It’s shorthand for Scandinavia, if not Norway specifically, and feels at home on winter gear, especially our American faux-Christmas sweaters and earmuffs.

Read this essay at The Atlantic

The Fax Is Not Yet Obsolete

Law and medicine still rely on the device. Maybe they shouldn’t.

by Sophie Haigney

Faxing really took off in the ’80s, in offices around the world. It caused major changes in the speed of business transactions, allowing individuals and companies to disseminate materials quickly and broadly—someone in an office building in Japan could fire off a document to the United States instantly.

Read this essay at The Atlantic

The Problem With Feedback

Companies and apps constantly ask for ratings, but all that data may just be noise in the system.

by Megan Ward

The current mania for feedback can be traced to the machine that kick-started the Industrial Revolution, the steam governor. Revisiting that machine, and understanding feedback’s lost, mechanical origins, can help people better use, and refuse, its constant demands.

Read this essay at The Atlantic

When Pop-Up Books Taught Popular Science

Before they were relegated to the domain of children, books with movable mechanisms explained anatomy, astronomy, and more to adults.

by Kathleen Crowther

The charm and whimsy of pop-up books might seem far removed from the dry seriousness of technical literature. But during the first three centuries of printing, from about 1450 to 1750, most pop-ups appeared in scientific books.

Read this essay at The Atlantic

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