How Letterboards Took Over America

A letterboard with an important question

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Wynn Galbraith is only 3, but she already holds an important distinction: At 6 months old, she was, as far as anyone can tell, the first baby ever to be Instagrammed in a now-familiar style, a “flat lay” from above, with a then-novel prop: a felt letterboard that announced her age.

This photo setup is a common one on the app these days. You’ve no doubt seen and maybe even double-tapped at least a few of these shots, which are posted by the dozens each week. The typical sign is black with a wooden frame, and comes with a collection of white plastic letters to be endlessly rearranged into the pithy message of your choosing. The reason we can isolate Wynn as the probable pioneer of the pose is that her mother and father, Johnny and Joanna Galbraith, say they invented it. Inventing a certified Instagram pose is a rare feat, but rarer still is what the Utah-based Galbraiths did with the company they started in 2015, Letterfolk. They didn’t invent the felt letterboard, but by most accounts they are the people responsible for transforming the signs from a forgotten industrial relic to something like a nostalgic décor essential.

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I Stopped Using Exclamation Points and Lost All My Friends

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In a new-year, new-me effort to conserve my emotional energy, I decided to scrub my correspondence of punctuational loudness, to go on what I called a deep exclamation point cleanse. The Goop de grammar. My goal was one month of zero bangs on email, text, social media, Slack, dating apps, letters (yes, letters), notes to my roommates—everything.

It started well enough. The first day, I awoke feeling superior—morally, intellectually, spiritually. I no longer relied on a pedestrian symbol to express excitement or mask anxiety. When the first text rolled in, a thank you for a dinner party I hosted the night before, it was no sweat. “Oooooo are you kidding????” I replied. “You were a DELIGHT.” If I couldn’t have exclamation points, I would have question marks. AND I WOULD YELL.

Without exclamation, I lost warmth and tonality. No one knew what I meant anymore.

Confessions of a Selfie Addict

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…many Instagrammers have, in an effort to add gravitas to their feeds, turned their backs on self-evident charms of the selfie in favor of more sincere genres. Examples include flowers ’n’ sunsets, and, my least favorite, those screenshots of text, usually platitudes of the what-doesn’t-kill-you-will-make-you-stronger variety. Also a bit worrying: those heartwarming pictures of (nonconsenting) pets and children. These make me nervous. I have visions of these unwittingly Instagrammed brats decrying their parents in therapists’ offices in years to come, claiming toddler privacy violations.

I make no apologies for being an unapologetic selfie-apologist. The same boring people who decry the selfie are the ones who used to insist on shoving their TVs inside a French armoire. That is so ratchet! (Am not exactly sure what ratchet means, but the Chainsmokers use it in their “Selfie” song so it must be groovy and au courant.) Selfies are fabulously stupid. Selfie vanity is life-affirming. There’s a manic pouting tween inside all of us. Set her free! Long live the selfie!

While dragging my eyeballs across these endless images of pets and peonies, I made a critical discovery: The most enthralling Instagrammers are, paradoxically, the ones with the most superficial occupations. Nuclear physicists and politicians are a big yawn, but models and makeup artists, are, whether intentionally or unintentionally, quite bizarrely entertaining.

Emoji are showing up in court cases exponentially, and courts aren’t prepared

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Bay Area prosecutors were trying to prove that a man arrested during a prostitution sting was guilty of pimping charges, and among the evidence was a series of Instagram DMs he’d allegedly sent to a woman. One read: “Teamwork make the dream work” with high heels and money bag emoji placed at the end. Prosecutors said the message implied a working relationship between the two of them. The defendant said it could mean he was trying to strike up a romantic relationship. Who was right?

Do Not Disturb: How I Ditched My Phone and Unbroke My Brain

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I’ve been a heavy phone user for my entire adult life. But sometime last year, I crossed the invisible line into problem territory. My symptoms were all the typical ones: I found myself incapable of reading books, watching full-length movies or having long uninterrupted conversations. Social media made me angry and anxious, and even the digital spaces I once found soothing (group texts, podcasts, YouTube k-holes) weren’t helping. I tried various tricks to curb my usage, like deleting Twitter every weekend, turning my screen grayscale and installing app-blockers. But I always relapsed.

Eventually, in late December, I decided that enough was enough. I called Catherine Price, a science journalist and the author of “How to Break Up With Your Phone,” a 30-day guide to eliminating bad phone habits. And I begged her for help.

…Instead, her program focuses on addressing the root causes of phone addiction, including the emotional triggers that cause you to reach for your phone in the first place. The point isn’t to get you off the internet, or even off social media — you’re still allowed to use Facebook, Twitter and other social platforms on a desktop or laptop, and there’s no hard-and-fast time limit. It’s simply about unhooking your brain from the harmful routines it has adopted around this particular device, and hooking it to better things.

…For the rest of the week, I became acutely aware of the bizarre phone habits I’d developed. I noticed that I reach for my phone every time I brush my teeth or step outside the front door of my apartment building, and that, for some pathological reason, I always check my email during the three-second window between when I insert my credit card into a chip reader at a store and when the card is accepted.

Workism Is Making Americans Miserable

A man sleeps at his desk.

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The second external trauma of the Millennial generation has been the disturbance of social media, which has amplified the pressure to craft an image of success—for oneself, for one’s friends and colleagues, and even for one’s parents. But literally visualizing career success can be difficult in a services and information economy. Blue-collar jobs produce tangible products, like coal, steel rods, and houses. The output of white-collar work—algorithms, consulting projects, programmatic advertising campaigns—is more shapeless and often quite invisible. It’s not glib to say that the whiter the collar, the more invisible the product.

Since the physical world leaves few traces of achievement, today’s workers turn to social media to make manifest their accomplishments. Many of them spend hours crafting a separate reality of stress-free smiles, postcard vistas, and Edison-lightbulbed working spaces. “The social media feed [is] evidence of the fruits of hard, rewarding labor and the labor itself,” Petersen writes.

Among Millennial workers, it seems, overwork and “burnout” are outwardly celebrated (even if, one suspects, they’re inwardly mourned)…

The problem with this gospel—Your dream job is out there, so never stop hustling—is that it’s a blueprint for spiritual and physical exhaustion.