Driver’s License

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Object Lessons is a series of short, beautifully designed books about the hidden lives of ordinary things. A classic teenage fetish object, the American driver’s license has long symbolized freedom and mobility in a nation whose design assumes car travel and whose vastness rivals continents. It is youth’s pass to regulated vice-cigarettes, bars, tattoo parlors, casinos, strip joints, music venues, guns. In its more recent history, the license has become increasingly associated with freedom’s flipside: screening. The airport’s heightened security checkpoint. Controversial ID voting laws. Federally mandated, anti-terrorist driver’s license re-designs. The driver’s license encapsulates the contradictory values and practices of contemporary American culture-freedom and security, mobility and checkpoints, self-definition and standardization, democracy and exclusion, superficiality and intimacy, the stable self and the self in flux. Object Lessons is published in partnership with an essay series in The Atlantic.


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