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.

Read this essay at The Atlantic

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.

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Why Doctors Still Need Stethoscopes

The instrument may have outlived its use, but it hasn’t lost its power.

by Andrew Bomback

The stethoscope isn’t a tool, anymore, but a metonym for bedside manner.

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The Steel Road Plate, Accidental Traffic Calmer

A Mini Object Lesson

by Ian Bogost

America’s decaying infrastructure can be seen in high-profile disasters like the lead contamination of the water supply in Flint, Michigan. But other, more mundane infrastructural nuisances plague our cities far more regularly. Among them: the increasingly ubiquitous steel road plate.

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Why Refrigerators Were So Slow to Catch On in China

The technology was once considered superfluous, until contemporary capitalism made it a necessity.

by Michael Strickland

The usefulness and necessity of the refrigerator depends on a number of factors that are not obviously related to the thing itself, from food packaging to the layout of communities to the length of school lunch breaks.

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Learning From the Swinging Bridge

What rickety, rural suspension bridges can teach us about modern infrastructure

by T. Hugh Crawford

Rural swinging bridges were (and still are) vernacular architecture based on local knowledge and materials, but technically, they are suspension bridges just like the Golden Gate.

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The Pleasure of the Text Editor

A Mini Object Lesson

by Ian Bogost

When it comes to word processing, all too often white-collar workers produce documents when all they really need is text.

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The Mug, Scaffold of Office Work

A Mini Object Lesson

by Ian Bogost

In cupboards, a mug is just a mug. But in the office, a mug becomes the fundamental prop of the professional.

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Is the Library Card Dying?

After centuries of innovation, it faces an uncertain future.

by Sara Polsky

In the pre-computer era, library cards were just one part of a complex system that kept track of book loans and returns. But the need to issue a physical card at all may be disappearing. With smartphone apps, cardholders can input their numbers and produce a bar code that can be scanned, with no need for the actual card.

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A History of Wallpaper’s Deception

For centuries, the wall covering has helped people construct new realities inside their homes.

by Jude Stewart

The flipside of wallpaper’s affordable appeal was that it received a stigma it’s never fully gotten rid of. Wallpaper “has never quite thrown off the taint [of] being a cheap imitation.”

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Not Your Grandmother’s Meatball

The hearty Olive Garden staple is a far cry from the dish that Italian immigrants first brought to the United States.

by Marissa Landrigan

The meatball is a staple of Italian restaurants across America, from the lowly Olive Garden to the white tablecloths of upscale Manhattan eateries. But the meatballs you’ll get at Olive Garden are nothing like those found in Italy. Writing in Smithsonian, Shaylyn Esposito explains that Italian meatballs, known as polpettes, are considerably smaller than their American brethren.

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The Season of Small Toys

A Mini Object Lesson

by Christopher Schaberg

The names of Lego toys in the 1980s show that the age of excess was ramping up, replete with all the hyperbolic promises of eternal growth in newly-unregulated industry.

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What Engineers Can Learn From the Design of the Penis

The mechanics of the erection may have applications for robotics.

by M. Sophia Newman

The concept of using the design of the penis for other purposes is part of an established field called biomimicry, the science of applying nature’s design lessons to human problems.

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Our Reactor in the Sky

A Mini Object Lesson

by Anya Groner

Though humans organize our schedules around the clock, Daylight Savings reminds us that our lives, like our planet, revolve around the sun.

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Finding Solace in a Storage Unit

The facilities occupy a complicated place in American life.

by Abigail Greenbaum

We refuse to let go of our possessions, even as our lives propel us away from them. Our stuff and our hearts are hard to separate.

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How to Vanquish the Automated Towel Dispenser

A Mini Object Lesson

by Ian Bogost

The toilet is the ultimate venue of control. It’s where you start to learn control, as a toddler, and where you eventually lose it, as a golden ager. And yet, today’s toilet has abandoned its role as the temple of control.

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The Slow Death of the Political Bumper Sticker

Why the campaign staple has been falling out of favor

by Simona Supekar

Sales of bumper stickers have been dropping. Some blame it on digital and social-media advertising as replacements for the stickers, buttons, and campaign pins of yore.

Read this essay at The Atlantic