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1. Beau Bots

What it is: Chatbots like the Replika app are creating avenues for romantic relationships between people and AI. Replika allows users a limitless chat experience for free, but requires a payment plan to provide a girlfriend or boyfriend experience.
Why it’s not science fiction: The transhumanism movement has been predicting for decades that sophisticated technology will inevitably merge man with machine. But thinking about actually falling in love with a non-sentient being is still hard for most people to wrap their heads around. After all, wouldn’t interactions with a bot lack the excitement of building a partnership with a warmblooded companion? Wouldn’t it just feel like talking to yourself? As hard as it may be for us to envision, it’s important to take note of. The climate of love and relationships has been changing rapidly. There’s a strong emphasis on self-love and a longing for safety over spontaneity—both factors that make a robot Romeo more (for lack of a better term) desirable. Young people are also less motivated to reproduce, which has long been one of if not the primary driver for marriage. Swiftly evolving AI-tech coupled with an emerging narcissistic streak could make these relationships more common.

2. More Than Words

What it is: The terms “algo-speak” and “Voldemorting” have been coined to refer to ways social media posters modify certain phrases to sneak past automated algorithm censorship.
Why it’s happening: Teens have always created work-arounds in their lexicon to speak in code when parents are around. “Algo-speak” is just the newest version of it; a way to talk without digital Big Brother descending to downrank or “disappear” the conversation. Examples may include using “unalive myself” to talk about suicide, a syringe emoji to discuss vaccine mandates, and “corn” for porn. Algo-speak is the latest example of how censorship on social media is complicated; making certain terms taboo doesn’t eliminate certain types of discussion, it just takes it underground. Questions of protected speech and free expression continue to be hotly contested.

3. Swimming in Controversy

What it is: Sports Illustrated released their annual swimsuit issue, featuring Kim Kardashian, Maye Musk (mom to Elon), Kelly Hughes (who displays her C-section scar), and Ciara as this years’ cover models. A plus-size model named Yumi Nu also appeared, which drew the ire of critics.
Why it was never about the swimsuits: The SI swimsuit issue has always attracted controversy. At some point, it was seen as a cultural flashpoint—an indicator of what and who our society was idealizing, idolizing, and imitating, and a launching pad for many supermodels. Now , the magazine aims to be more inclusive of different kinds of bodies. This is an approach that some (such as author and psychologist Jordan Peterson) find to be grating, as it would seem that Sports Illustrated isn’t giving the people what they want, but telling them what beauty and desire should look like. Yumi Nu posted a TikTok where she claimed victory over her detractors, lip-syncing the words, “I win, you lose.” Perhaps those who would die on the hill of defending “Western beauty standards” are asking the wrong questions to begin with. Is a society where a person in a bikini dictates how much everyone else values their own bodies a healthy place to grow up?

Slang of the Week

Leg booty: algo-speak for LGBT, used sometimes in comment sections. (Ex: “Commenter 1: Would love to meet your parents and take things to the next level. OP: We’d need a cover story—my parents don’t know I’m leg booty.”)

Translation: Beau Bots

Although developing a romantic relationship with AI is clearly not the same thing as masturbation, C.S. Lewis’s insights on that topic are helpful here. He writes, “For me the real evil of masturbation would be that it takes an appetite which, in lawful use, leads the individual out of himself to complete (and correct) his own personality in that of another (and finally in children and even grandchildren) and turns it back: sends the man back into the prison of himself, there to keep a harem of imaginary brides. And this harem, once admitted, works against his ever getting out and really uniting with a real woman. For the harem is always accessible, always subservient, calls for no sacrifices or adjustments, and can be endowed with erotic and psychological attractions which no woman can rival.”

Now, maybe AI will eventually be programmed to be more relationally demanding, and thus potentially rewarding. Maybe some who have struggled to find real men or women to begin a relationship with, see something like Replika as a helpful substitute. But in an era where this “harem of imaginary brides (or husbands)” is infinitely available online—in AI, in pornography, and thousands of other services—one of the tasks for Christian parents is to represent real, human-to-human relationships as actually worthwhile for the next generation.

When God said, “It is not good for man to be alone,” he did not create a simulation for Adam to converse with. He did not create a cover model for Adam to stare at. He created another human being for him to be with—another complex, confusing, wonderful human being.

For many members of Gen Z, marriage and even deep friendships may not seem worth the risk. Life’s greatest pleasures and worst pains all come from our relationships. But even in the hardest times, we learn. If we allow ourselves, we grow. We become kinder, gentler, smarter, wiser, better—in a word, we become more like Christ. And though we can’t know just what any human relationship will bring us, as Søren Kierkegaard once put it, “To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily—not to dare is to lose oneself.”

Here are some questions to spark conversation with your teens:

  • What do you think it would take for someone to feel like starting a relationship with Replika?
  • What would you say is the general attitude among your friends toward romantic relationships?
  • What would make a relationship (or a deep friendship) worth pursuing?