How Millennials (Almost) Killed the Wine Cork

A new generation of wine drinkers came of age with screw caps and plastic bottle stoppers, but cork producers are mounting a campaign to win their loyalty.

by John Gifford

Though it has recaptured some market share in recent years, the cork industry is now fighting against the newly discovered appeal of plastic and aluminum. Much of cork’s current struggle can be attributed to one group in particular: Millennial wine drinkers, a generation that has less of an allegiance to traditional cork closures.

Read this essay at The Atlantic

Still a Staple of Modern Life

A Mini Object Lesson

by Ian Bogost

Everything about the stapler reeks of a time gone. The all-metal body. The satisfying and audible cha-chunk of its operation. The details, too, like the rubberized pads in its undercarriage to prevent shifting on the desk or table while the violence of paper fastening is enacted.

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The New Starman

A Mini Object Lesson

by Christopher Schaberg

There is the not-so-subtle correspondence drawn between aerial velocity and road speed. Acceleration obliterates both space in front of us and time behind us. But we no longer have the old promises or futuristic fantasies of space travel.

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How the Microscope Redefined the Fact

By making images, not words, the most reliable source of information, the device changed what it means to know.

by Aaron Hanlon

17th-century scientists understood the limitations of the human senses. Our eyes can only do so much observing on their own; they need lenses to see things far away, and to see the minute details of things up close.

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Fingerless Gloves for Winter Superheroes

A Mini Object Lesson

by Ian Bogost

Today, fingerless gloves are practical tools before they are outerwear, sportswear, or fashion. Fingers have become the tools that make the difference between sub-human and super-human action for us ordinary folk, via technology rather than ability.

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Like Baseball Cards, but for Funerals

Funeral cards are reminders of loved ones who have passed away—but when the names on the cards belong to strangers, they’re also collectibles.

by Michael Williams

On the surface, funeral cards look like Catholic trading cards, adorned with religious figures like Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, or a popular saint. On the backs of these 4.25-by-2.5 inch cards are the names of the deceased, their birth and death dates, and brief prayers or poems. The lure of memorial cards extends beyond a morbid fascination with death.

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When the Coffee Machine Is Just a Human

How pour-over takes the automation out of the brewing process

by Andrew Pilsch

Pour-over coffee values deliberation, flavor, and quality, treating coffee as something to be savored rather than pure brain fuel.

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The Wire Hanger’s Flexible Symbolism

Its design hasn’t changed much over its short history, but its meaning has.

by Ravi Mangla

While most first-generation devices have faded away to make room for more modern iterations, the malleable wire hanger has endured, with startlingly few modifications, for well over a century.

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No, There Are Not 100 Eskimo Words for “Snow”

A Mini Object Lesson

by Ian Bogost

The number of “words” for snow in Eskimo languages is a misnomer, a strange lost-in-translation sort of way of explaining that you can use “snow” and its variant terms in as many different sentences as you wish.

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Blue Apron and the Thing About Dinner

A Mini Object Lesson

by Christopher Schaberg

Blue Apron does something funny to dinner: it turns it into a predictably good thing to make and consume. It seems to come out just right, every time. This is profoundly weird, if you think about it: the idea that every meal should be perfect. What life is this?

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Ten Thousand Years of the Mortar and Pestle

The culinary tools still look more or less the same as they did in their earliest days

by Kate Angus

Modern-day mortars and pestles, no matter the composition, connect their owners to this ancient culinary and material history. The design has changed very little over the past several millennia: When you use it to grind spices into powder or make food into paste, you’re using essentially the same tool as the Aztecs, the Celts, the Sioux, the ancient Greeks, the Egyptians, and the Romans, to name just a few.

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The Airport Restroom

A Mini Object Lesson

by Ian Bogost

The reverie of travel has long ceased for most leisure travelers; mere survival is the goal.

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When Does Bread Become Toast?

A Mini Object Lesson

by Ian Bogost

Is bread toast only insofar as a human toaster perceives it to be “done?” Is bread toast when it reaches some specific level of nonenzymatic browning?

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The Butterflies’ Great Migration

Each year, a new generation of Monarchs flies south for the winter—but habitat loss is making the journey harder.

by Sallie Lewis

With the growing threats of climate change and habitat loss, the Monarch’s numbers continue to drop every year, and its fate looks increasingly uncertain. The number of Monarchs migrating from the U.S. has dropped by 90 percent in the past 20 years.

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The Prosthetic Eyeball Is a Work of Art

Making a realistic eye takes more than technical skill.

by Tate Williams

Partially because they’re made to blend in, prosthetic eyes aren’t something that the average person knows much about. Many would be surprised to learn, for example, that false eyes are not spheres and they’re not glass, and haven’t been for quite some time.

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Our Action Figures, Ourselves

How a children’s toy can be an identity marker for adults

by Nolen Gertz

The tension between fantasy and reality, in turn, led to the trait that would come to define the action figure’s enduring appeal: its ability to take on new meanings at the hands of its owners.

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Encyclopedias Are Time Capsules

How collections of knowledge remain useful even after they’re outdated

by Justin Nobel

Chaos cannot be tamed, but it can be recorded for posterity. And there is perhaps no object more lasting than the encyclopedia. An attempt to organize the knowledge and history of our world, encyclopedias also can transcend our world.

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The Gifts that Keep Giving

A Mini Object Lesson

by Christopher Schaberg

Books really are gifts that keep giving. A good book is read only to be reread (sooner or later), or better, circulated in short time among friends or family members—read by many people.

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The Untold Stories of the Hairbrush

How a beauty tool can be a symbol of love, power, or identity

by Antonia Malchik

Quietly, these hairbrushes play a role in shaping their users’ identities. In various places and at various times in history, hair has been seen as a signifier of status or a means of identifying with a certain community, something to show off or something to hide.

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The Autumn Oak

A Mini Object Lesson

by Ian Bogost

Among those who dwell under oak canopies, the experienced will learn to sweep, rake, or blow the leaves and acorns off of porous surfaces quickly. But even the vigilant can’t keep up with nature.

Read this essay at The Atlantic