10 Objects That Mattered This Week

Thingdown is a weekly roundup of things — objects, products, stuff — that are lately in the news or otherwise of interest right now.

  1. The function of the nonexistent planned future object, such as the new USPS truck, is to tell a story. (My latest Object of the Week for Marker.)
  2. The design of the Daft Punk robot helmets, a Twitter thread. (Via.)
  3. Regarding the former Mr. Potato Head: “Sorry liberals, there’s only one gender: potato.”
  4. This rescue beaver instinctively builds “dams” in hallways with plungers, toys, and other household objects
  5. Lady Gaga Oreos. (Flashback: “I have seen the future…

Object of the Week

The new fleet of electric vehicles paints a brighter future where the post office actually still exists

The new US Postal Service truck
The new US Postal Service truck
Photo illustration, source: USPS

Object of the Week is a column exploring the objects a culture obsesses over and what that reveals about us.

It’s been a rough year — well, a rough decade or two — for the U.S. Postal Service. So it’s notable that in addition to enduring another round of criticism for subpar delivery performance this week, the venerable government agency also made news that struck a potentially positive note: It has awarded the contract for up to 165,000 new and redesigned delivery vehicles, some of which will run on electric power. …


Off Brand

The chain continues to deliver in hurricanes, pandemics — and now energy grid disasters

H-E-B Grocery Store and parker cars in front, Texas
H-E-B Grocery Store and parker cars in front, Texas
Photo: Tony Webster via flickr/CC BY 2.0

The recent Texas weather disaster and subsequent energy grid meltdown left many losers in its wake: residents, power companies, government regulators, and Ted Cruz. But the tragedy also produced at least one clear and unabashed winner: H-E-B, a 116-year-old, family-owned regional grocery chain based in San Antonio and already popular throughout much of the state.

At a moment when Mother Nature offered peril and institutions seemed helpless to respond, the mainstream grocer was open for business with stocked shelves, serving as an anchor of basic competence — and received glowing coverage for doing its job. It’s a halo effect most…


9 Objects That Mattered This Week

Thingdown is a weekly roundup of things — objects, products, stuff — that are lately in the news or otherwise of interest right now.

  1. Grape-Nuts are an industrial object, with a very devoted following. (My Object of the Week for Marker.)
  2. Paul Lukas on #saltboxart in Baltimore. Fascinating.
  3. Reports: There is a bullet shortage.
  4. A Candle That Smells Like Fresh Sneakers.
  5. Ancient Toys. Amazing. Somebody should make contemporary versions.
  6. Alleged: Vibram FiveFingers “toe shoes” are the latest heinous footwear to make a Pandemic comeback. (Bonus: my column on these shoes the first time around, in 2010.)
  7. IKEA furniture specifically for…

The Tesla CEO has a better command of social media — and online culture in general — than the head of any social media company

Image for post
Image for post
Elon Musk on the red carpet of the Axel Springer Award 2020 on December 1, 2020 in Berlin, Germany. Photo: Britta Pedersen/Pool/Getty Images

“Underestimating Elon is not a good idea,” Bill Gates said on Kara Swisher’s podcast the other day. But really, at this point, who is underestimating Elon Musk? The man is everywhere, influencing everything (or trying to). In addition to hyping his own companies, he’s chiming in on cryptocurrency and “Gamestonk,” interrogating the CEO of Robinhood (and putting Clubhouse on the map in the process), separately inviting both Kanye West and Vladimir Putin for another Clubhouse appearance, and even slamming the operator of Texas’ power grid. And that’s just the past couple of weeks.

It’s tempting to believe that we have…


Object of the Week

How a shortage of the most boring cereal turned it into a pandemic sensation

A Grape-Nuts cereal box photoshopped onto a purple background with the text “Object of the Week” and a square frame surrounding the cereal box.
A Grape-Nuts cereal box photoshopped onto a purple background with the text “Object of the Week” and a square frame surrounding the cereal box.

Object of the Week is a column exploring the objects a culture obsesses over and what that reveals about us.

Of all the shortages the country has endured in the pandemic era, surely the scarcity of Grape-Nuts is among the least important. No lives are at stake; it is not even a particularly popular cereal. In fact, it’s probably more familiar as a punchline than as a part of your complete, nutritious breakfast. …


Off Brand

In recent weeks the stock trading app has been in reputational free fall. So why is it more popular than ever?

An illustration of a green Robin Hood cap (the bycocket) with the Robinhood company’s  feather logo placed four times along the cap.
An illustration of a green Robin Hood cap (the bycocket) with the Robinhood company’s  feather logo placed four times along the cap.
Illustration by Julia Moburg for Marker

One company’s misery is often another’s opportunity, and that certainly seems to be the story of Public, an under-the-radar stock-trading app that’s lately gotten hot in large part because it is not Robinhood. Just as the #DeleteUber moment boosted its rival Lyft, the Robinhood backlash that kicked in after the app temporarily halted trading in GameStop shares at the height of stonk-mania — resulting in one-star app store reviews, social media outrage, user vows to dump the app, etc. — has sent Public a flood of new customers, and fresh investor interest. But the ultimate winner of the Public vs…


9 Objects That Mattered This Week

  1. My Object of the Week for Marker: Birkenstocks + Birken Bags = Birkinstocks, the ultimate consumer-culture troll.
  2. I finally found a facemask design I actually like.
  3. RIP the Lear Jet. Long an icon of mega-wealth and the high life, it is now considered “cramped and not as luxurious as other planes.”
  4. Was LAX Jetpack Guy actually an object?
  5. “Pringles chips are the shape of a hyperbolic paraboloid.” Mathematicians discuss.
  6. How the stress ball indicts late-stage capitalism.
  7. Super Bowl LV was attended by 30,000 cardboard cutouts. Fans could pay $100 to get theirs in the stands. Make it stop.
  8. Need a reason to question humanity? Counterfeit N95 masks.
  9. Object in progress: the IRL Mute Button. (Links are not necessarily endorsements, y’all.)

Have a nice weekend!


(You might hate it)

Through the pandemic, I have resisted the idea of the “cool” mask. I have consistently worn a mask, but I never wanted one that was fashionable or clever or somehow expressed my identity. Masks are tools to survive and help others survive a horrible episode that I hope will end; mask culture is depressing and stressful. I don’t want to like my masks. I want to live in a world where I can destroy them once and for all.

But this week I saw a mask that I really kinda love. It is, in a way, a mask that is…


Object of the Week

The story of a hippie sandal, a six-figure handbag, private equity, and a very mischievous art collective

A Birkinstock sandal, with the straps made of recycled Birkin bags, below the text “Object of the Week”.
A Birkinstock sandal, with the straps made of recycled Birkin bags, below the text “Object of the Week”.
Credit: MSCHF

Object of the Week is a new column exploring the objects a culture obsesses over and what that reveals about us.

Birkenstocks, “fashion’s original ugly shoe,” as the Business of Fashion put it the other day, are having a moment. A pretty weird moment, actually, that has somehow caused the brand to stumble into the realm of high luxury.

Earlier this week, Bloomberg reported that the maker of the hippie-dippie casual-culture icon was in talks to be acquired by L Catterton, a private equity firm backed by lux mega-business LVMH. The talks value Birkenstock in the neighborhood of $5 billion.

Rob Walker

Senior writer at Marker on intersections of design, consumer culture, branding & business. Longtime NYT contributor. Author The Art of Noticing. robwalker.net

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