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.

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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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