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.
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.
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.
A classic teenage fetish object, the American driver’s license has long symbolized freedom and mobility in a nation whose design assumes car travel and whose vastness rivals continents. It is youth’s pass to regulated vice—cigarettes, bars, tattoo parlors, casinos, strip joints, music venues, guns. In its more recent history, the license has become increasingly associated with freedom’s flipside: screening. The airport’s heightened security checkpoint. Controversial ID voting laws. Federally mandated, anti-terrorist driver’s license re-designs. The driver’s license encapsulates the contradictory values and practices of contemporary American culture—freedom and security, mobility and checkpoints, self-definition and standardization, democracy and exclusion, superficiality and intimacy, the stable self and the self in flux.
During the breakdown of an unhappy marriage, writer Joanna Walsh got a job as a hotel reviewer, and began to gravitate towards places designed as alternatives to home. Luxury, sex, power, anonymity, privacy…hotels are where our desires go on holiday, but also places where our desires are shaped by the hard realities of the marketplace. Part memoir and part meditation, this book visits a series of rooms, suites, hallways, and lobbies—the spaces and things that make up these modern sites of gathering and alienation, hotels.
Have you ever thought seriously about your refrigerator? The box humming in the background actually displays who you are and the society in which you live. Historian Jonathan Rees examines the past, present, and future of the electric household refrigerator with an eye towards preventing its users from ever taking it for granted again. No mere container for cold Cokes and celery stalks, the refrigerator is actually more like a mirror—and what it reflects is chilling indeed.
What is silence? In a series of short meditations, novelist and playwright John Biguenet considers silence as a servant of power, as a lie, as a punishment, as the voice of God, as a terrorist’s final weapon, as a luxury good, as the reason for torture—in short, as an object we both do and do not recognize. Concluding with the prospects for its future in a world burgeoning with noise, Biguenet asks whether we should desire or fear silence—or if it is even ours to choose.
An archeological object without conservationists, the phone booth exists as a memory to those over thirty—and as a strange, curious, and dysfunctional occupier of public space for those under thirty. This book approaches the phone booth as an entity that, in its myriad manifestations in different parts of the world, embodies a cluster of attitudes concerning privacy, freedom, power, sanctuary, and communication. Playing off of myriad surfaces—literature, film, personal narrative, philosophy, and religion—Ariana Kelly presents a prismatic ontology of an object on the cusp of obsolescence.
Pause and look, and you will see that you are surrounded by glass: light reflects off and refracts through your windows; it encircles a glowing filament above you; it’s in a mirror hanging on the wall; it lies shattered in a dented corner of an iPhone; you’re drinking water out of a pint glass. Taking up a most common object, rarely considered because assumed to be transparent, John Garrison draws evocative connections between historical depictions of glass and emergent discourses within the technology sector that envision glass as holding unique promise for new forms of interaction. Grounded in examples familiar to most readers, this book offers a series of surprising—often counterintuitive—insights into how we see the world and see ourselves in the world.
Though we try to imagine otherwise, waste is every object, plus time. Whatever else an object is, it’s also waste—or was, or will be. All that is needed is time or a change of sentiment or circumstance. Waste is not merely the field of discarded objects, but the name we give to our troubled relationship with the decaying object-world outside ourselves. In this book, Brian Thill meditates on those waste objects that most fundamentally shape our modern lives, and plumbs our complicated emotional and intellectual relationships to our own refuse: nuclear waste, climate debris, pop-culture rubbish, digital detritus, and more.
The shipping container is all around: whizzing by on the highway, trundling past on rails, unloading behind a big box store even as you shop there, clanking on the docks just out of sight…. It’s an absolutely ubiquitous object, even if most of us have no direct contact with it. But what is this thing? Where has it been, and where is it going? Craig Martin’s book illuminates the “development of containerization”—including design history, standardization, aesthetics, and a surprising speculative discussion of the futurity of shipping containers.
This curious book takes an almost meta-approach to the object studies aim of Object Lessons: exploring the stacks as well as our bedside tables, writer and historian Lydia Pyne unpacks not just the material parts but the secret lives of bookshelves. Pyne finds bookshelves to be holders not just of books but of so many other things: values, vibes, and verbs that can be contained and displayed in the buildings and rooms of contemporary human existence. With a shrewd eye toward this particular moment in the history of books, Pyne takes the reader on a tour of the bookshelf that leads critically to this juncture: amid rumors of the death of book culture, why is the life of bookshelf in full bloom?
We all wear hoods: the Grim Reaper, Red Riding Hood, torturers, executioners and the executed, athletes, laborers, anarchists, rappers, babies in onesies, and anyone who’s ever grabbed a hoodie on a chilly day. Alison Kinney’s Hood explores the material and symbolic vibrancy of this everyday garment and political semaphore, which often protects the powerful at the expense of the powerless—with deadly results. Kinney considers medieval clerics and the Klan, anti-hoodie campaigns and the Hooded Man of Abu Ghraib, the Inquisition and the murder of Trayvon Martin, uncovering both the hooded perpetrators of violence and the hooded victims in their sights.
What is bread? Something to eat, something to bake, something to break. In this book, Scott Cutler Shershow offers a philosophical inquiry and an accessible survey of the many manifestations of bread, in our daily lives and beyond. This book offers a unique approach, integrating the lived experience of bread, incorporating musings and reflections on bread by the author as he kneads and bakes his way through various loaves. Carving paths between food studies, critical inquiry, and cultural history, Shershow examines bread as an object that, throughout the myriad details of its manufacture and social existence, is always in process of becoming something else—flower to grain, grain to dough, dough to loaf, loaf to crumb, and so forth.
Smokers, survivalists, teenagers, collectors…. The cigarette lighter is a charged, complex, yet often entirely disposable object that moves across these various groups of people, acquiring and emitting different meanings while always supplying its primary function, that of ignition. While the lighter may seem at first a niche object—only for old fashioned cigarette smokers—in this book Jack Pendarvis explodes the lighter as something with deep history, as something with quirky episodes in cultural contexts, and as something that dances with wide ranging taboos and traditions. Pendarvis shows how the lighter tarries with the cheapest ends of consumer culture as much as it displays more profound dramas of human survival, technological advances, and aesthetics.
It towers over us and yet fades into background. Its lifespan outstrips ours, and yet its wisdom remains inaccessible, treasured up within its heartwood. It serves us in many ways—as keel, lodgepole, and execution site—and yet to become human, we had to come down from its branches. A model for history and a matrix for the malevolent, the tree occupies great swathes of cultural territory; despite its stationary habit, it does a great deal of meaning-making work in human worlds. A study of the tree’s many natures, this book will offer a branching meditation on the forms, uses, and alliances of the arborescent.
Hair, a primary marker of our mammalian nature, is a remarkably powerful indicator of economic status, social standing, political orientation, religious affiliation, marital state, and cultural leanings, among other things. This book offers a pithy yet wide-ranging overview of global hair customs, analyzed from the perspective of religious studies. The rules of hair—head and body, visible and covered—are deep, powerful, and so deeply embedded in cultural conditioning that they are usually held unconsciously (and more strongly for that). From Hittites to hippies, from Pentecostals to porn stars, hair is a ubiquitous personal and vibrant object, a charged and carefully managed dead thing.
No matter how much you fight against it, dust pervades everything. It gathers in even layers, adapting to the contours of things and marking the passage of time. In itself, it is also a gathering place, a random community of what has been and what is yet to be, a catalog of traces and a set of promises: dead skin cells and plant pollen, hair and paper fibers, not to mention dust mites who make it their home. And so, dust blurs the boundaries between the living and the dead, plant and animal matter, the inside and the outside, you and the world (“for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return”). This book treats one of the most mundane and familiar phenomena, showing how it can provide a key to thinking about existence, community, and justice today.
Blankets, they exist in so many places: throughout homes, on our beds, in commercial airliners, in prison cells, silver ones scattered around public streets after marathons…what could we possibly say about them all? Can we even think about the blanket as a discrete thing? Kara Thompson’s book considers the object potential of blankets by encountering them in multiple formats, times, and spaces—from the battlefield to the hospital, from the home to the grave. The blanket turns out to be a surprising media form, carrying everything from viruses to cultural codes.
How many passwords do we have to memorize these days? Or more likely, how many passwords must we regularly reset and later be reminded of, only to be again forgotten, lost, or discarded, seemingly ad infinitum? Martin Paul Eve’s book takes up the lively history and thingliness of passwords, showing them to be pressing down on us and far more than just neutral gateways or drab data points. Touching on identity theft, the ‘strength’ of passwords, and behavior conditioning, Eve’s book gets into the inner workings of this quasi-object, showing how passwords are at once integral and abject parts of modern life.