A Trip to a Swedish Town That’s Being Completely Relocated

People engineer cities, but cities have a way of engineering people back. An Object Lesson.

by Tom Bradstreet

One day, the iron below Kiruna will be exhausted, or else too costly to access. The town will not have to move again; it will sit there, abandoned, like the outposts of so many frontiers.

Read this essay at The Atlantic

How I Came to Love the En Space

In typesetting, the spaces between words, lines, and letters are never really empty. An Object Lesson.

by Lindsay Lynch

Long before minimalism exalted the aesthetic and commercial value of blank space, the ordinary folk who operated printers held it in their hands, in the form of en spaces, leading strips, and the wedges of metal that hung off kerned glyphs. It didn’t take a turtleneck to see why blank space can be moving.

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Are Tote Bags Really Good for the Environment?

They’re green in principle, but not in the way people use them. An Object Lesson.

by Noah Dillon

Like plastic sacks, tote bags, too, now seem essentially unending. Because of their ubiquity, tote bags that have been used very little (or not at all) can be found piled on curbs, tossed in trashcans in city parks, in dumpsters, everywhere. Their abundance encourages consumers to see them as disposable, defeating their very purpose.

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Going ‘Full Tupac’

Holograms are more than science fiction, but the real-life technology isn’t what people think it is. An Object Lesson.

by Gregory Zinman

Simultaneously here and gone, holograms are stand-ins for all things virtual, harbingers of a “mixed reality” in which the real and the simulated have been integrated seamlessly. Highly hyped future products such as Magic Leap andMicrosoft HoloLens hope to holographically enhance ordinary life, promising a revolution in communication, gaming, home improvement, engineering, design, and art making—an “internet of experiences” that will displace the current information-dependent culture. In reality, however, holograms have mostly been gaudy stunts that reveal people’s anxiety about technological presence.

Read this essay at The Atlantic

Sipping Scotch Chilled by an Iceberg

What hunting for cocktail ice in Antarctica taught me about climate change. An Object Lesson.

by Michelle Iwen

Here I was at the end of the world, one of my biggest-bucket list items crossed off with a flourish. I desperately wanted this moment of decadence to resonate in some sort of life-changing way. Yet the warmth of a Highland single malt on my tongue, tempered by the ice, was nothing more than a pleasant, prosaic experience. That’s not a bad aspiration for all human relationships with the globe’s glaciers: ordinary objects that remain familiar even though far away, rather than becoming exceptional by means of their destruction.

Read this essay at The Atlantic

The Hearing Aid’s Pursuit of Invisibility

The device has a history of shaming, rather than helping, the hard of hearing. An Object Lesson.

by Jaipreet Virdi-Dhesi

That the hard of hearing should feel compelled to disguise their impairment with an invisible technology says a lot about how hearing loss is stigmatized. Invisibility is a popular selling point for hearing aids. At all costs, it seems, the technology must be contoured and fitted into the intricate parts of the ear rather than exposed for the world to see. The shame of mishearing, the embarrassment when the hearing aid “whistles,” the listening but not communicating—all of this threatens vanity, because deafness is still confused with understanding.

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A Century of Highway Zombies

Since the 1920s, “highway hypnosis” has lulled drivers to disaster. An Object Lesson.

by Carmine Grimaldi

Today, highway hypnotism has fallen from the public eye, but its rise in the 1950s reveals the anxious convulsions that shook new infrastructure that promised to make citizens freer, safer, and more comfortable.

Read this essay at The Atlantic

Dollhouses Weren’t Invented for Play

The social history of dollhouses is at odds with the idea that dollhouses are spaces of emotion, freedom, and imagination.

by Nicole Cooley

Dollhouses are both private and public. A dollhouse may live in our house or in a museum or online. People might sit down in front of a dollhouse, swing open its walls, remove its roof, and disappear alone inside. Or they might gather with a group of visitors at a museum and admire a dollhouse behind glass. The motto of the National Association of Miniature Enthusiasts is: “Only through sharing can we really enjoy our treasures.”

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How Real Cheese Made Its Comeback

After decades of Kraft Singles, more Americans than ever are hungry for artisanal varieties of the past. An Object Lesson.

by Laura Kiesel

Americans once prioritized affordability and convenience in food. But today, more consumers are embracing complex taste and purity of product, not to mention taking the environmental impact of their food choices into account—and they are willing to pay a higher price for the privilege. Cheese is a macrocosm of this trend.

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The Call of the Billboard

The roadside battle for people’s attention has been raging for more than a century.

by Erica Berry

Billboards normally call humans to commerce rather than insects to death. But their usual work often goes as unnoticed to people as to mosquitos. Billboards are so common it can be easy to stop seeing them entirely—until the draw of the products they depict appears later.

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Why Attack Airports?

A Mini Object Lesson

by Christopher Schaberg

Throughout the twentieth century and up to now, airports have been stages for displays of excessive power, and their corollary dangers. What makes airports popular targets for violent spectacles?

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Why Flash Drives Are Still Everywhere

It’s the lizard brain of your computer.

by Paul Dourish

The flash drive exposes the great lie of technological progress, which is the idea that things are ever really left behind.

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The Military Origins of the Cardigan

The popular sweater has a revolutionary history that includes Riot Grrrls and Coco Chanel.

by Allison Geller

Cardigan sweaters are the workhorses of the apparel family: so ubiquitous it’s easy to forget that they didn’t always exist. But they come with a vivid—and fierce—historical provenance.

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Gender in Flight

A Mini Object Lesson

by Christopher Schaberg

Gender politics have by no means disappeared up in the sky. Still, airplanes prove that some gender battles have already been settled.

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Where Do Flags Come From?

Since ancient times, civilizations have carried staffs, crests, and banners to declare their identities.

by Ben Nadler

National flags are streamlined symbols, easily recognizable and replicable. A sense of identity and a set of values can be invoked with a simple set of colored stripes and stars.

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The Enduring Unpopularity of the Female Condom

The internal condom saves lives, but it has been criticized from the start.

by Christine Ro

It’s clear that female condoms save lives, but over a quarter-century since their introduction, the apparatus remains unappealing and unpopular.

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The Rise of the Beer Can

Aluminum revolutionized America’s beverage industry, but at what environmental cost?

by Brendan Byrne

Beer is ancient, and humans have been storing it for millennia.

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The Smoke Alarm Chirps at Night

A Mini Object Lesson

by Ian Bogost

Ever wonder why smoke alarms always seem to chirp in the middle of the night? It seems like the ultimate evidence that the universe is plotting against you. But, alas, it’s mostly just the universe chugging along as usual.

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How Home Sewing Personalized Fashion

For generations, families have relied on thimbles, needles, and thread to transform the clothes they have into the clothes they want to wear.

by Frances Katz

Repairing clothing is more intimate than creating them. Compared to a sewing kit, even the most space-age sewing machine can seem cold and dull.

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Ketchup’s Forgotten Wisdom

A Mini Object Lesson

by Ian Bogost

The classic condiment dispensers of yore, with their cylindrical, plastic bodies and needle-tipped openings: these are the most functional vessels for doling out dollops.

Read this essay at The Atlantic