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1. Dreams You’d Like to Sell

What it is: Snapchat is releasing an AI selfie tool called Dreams.
What it will do: Dreams allows users to upload five or more real selfies before selecting a theme for the pack of eight AI-generated selfies they will receive. (Examples of themes include “doppelgangers” and “alternative universes.”) The first set of eight is free for Snapchat users, while each additional pack costs $1. It takes about a half hour for the AI selfies to be produced. Dreams is similar to other AI artwork generators that have selfie tools, but this release is notable because it is far cheaper, works faster, and is integrated with a social media app with 397 million daily active users. The Dreams feature may be the first time many younger users encounter an opportunity to use AI in this visual and personalized way. From a corporate perspective, Snapchat is certainly hoping that in-app purchases from Dreams will boost their recent weaker-than-expected market showings.
Start the conversation: Do you think AI selfie tools can impact a person’s self-esteem?

2. In a Pickle

What it is: #pickles has around 5 billion views on TikTok, with the briny sandwich staple developing a devoted following as a snack food.
Why it went viral: #pickletok isn’t being driven by a single viral fad, but by a series of smaller online phenomena. A sweatshirt that features 16 different pickle jars has made over $1 million in sales. A “hot pickle challenge” encourages participants to eat a Van Holten’s brand hot pickle straight out of the plastic packaging. DIY instructions for “chamoy pickle kits” (featuring fruit roll ups) and “Old Bay pickles” celebrate pickles as a savory snack option that is easy to customize. Pickles are showing up in girl dinners and crunchy sandwiches, and pickle juice is being vaunted as a cure for hangovers and dehydration. All this adds up to a lot of pickling, with one longtime pickle vendor working in Manhattan telling The New York Post that he’s never shipped so many jars in his life.
Start the conversation: Why do you think pickles are becoming so trendy?

3. An Uncontrolled Substance

What it is: An eye-opening essay in The Free Press describes the impact of pornography on a teen’s developing brain.
What it tells us: The author of this piece, Isabel Hogben, is a homeschooled high schooler living in Redford City, California. In one of several devastating lines, Hogben details how she stumbled upon PornHub when she was only ten years old, even as her very present mother was “making sure I was eating nine differently colored fruits and vegetables on the daily.” Hogben goes on to explain that today’s pornography depicts a synthetically augmented and physically brutal type of sex that makes Playboy magazine look “like an American Girl Doll catalog.” She notes that teens who have never had a physical sexual encounter can’t know the difference between what fake sex and real sex is supposed to be like, skewing their expectations, and that her peers think selling nudes online is normal. As she examines the way porn causes scientifically-measurable changes in the brain, Hogden concludes that porn is not “content” as much as it is a dangerously addictive substance not unlike street drugs.
Start the conversation: Why do you think pornography has become so common in our society? [Check out our recent conversation with Parker Hymas of Fight the New Drug for ideas on how to talk to Gen Z about pornography]

Song of the Week

“I Remember Everything” by Zach Bryan (feat. Kacey Musgraves): Zach Bryan’s duet with country star Kacey Musgraves has pushed its way to the top of the charts this week, hitting #1 on both the Apple Music USA Top 100 and the Spotify USA Top 50. Zach Bryan’s stripped-down, lyrics-forward country style (think Johnny Cash) is on full display, giving the duet an air of authenticity and true emotion. The lyrics recount the twilight of a romance, capturing all the pain and regret that comes along with it. Alcohol is frequently mentioned as a tool to numb emotions, though the lyrics make it clear that this kind of drinking has contributed to the demise of the relationship. For the full lyrics, click here.

Culture: Translated

AI-generated selfies and pornography are both hot button topics for a surprisingly similar reason. Both promise entertainment and wish-fulfillment by  augmenting reality to depict something fantastical. Snapchat Dreams wants to give you a version of yourself you aren’t and maybe could never be—but for a dollar, you can see what it would look like. Today’s pornography draws its users in with a vision of pleasure so much larger than life that at some point, it doesn’t even resemble what sex was meant to be.

Porn, in particular, presents a potent hazard for the young person who is still learning to tell the difference between reality and fantasy. If their first visual association with sex is the degrading and often violent mockery offered by online pornography, they don’t even get a chance at embracing reality. A dangerous parody is presented to them as the truth, and they can’t reject it as a lie because they can’t recognize it.

Protecting our children’s innocence in the internet age has to mean giving them a solid foundation of what God says reality is, and contrasting that with what the world will offer them instead. It presents a challenge that is hard to accept, because our natural desire is for our kids to live in blissful ignorance of how dark sexual sin can be. But if we don’t teach our kids, someone else will. Whoever gets to them first may have the deepest impact.

At the end of “The Last Battle,” C.S. Lewis’ final installment in “The Chronicles of Narnia,” Lucy remarks on the nature of heaven as she goes deeper into it: “This is still Narnia, and more real and more beautiful than the Narnia down below.” The world may promise a colorful fantasy, but Jesus draws us in with something so much richer: life itself. Helping teens and young adults learn to discern between what’s real and what isn’t invites them into this life and gives them a compass to guide them ever-closer to the heart of Christ, the most real and beautiful thing there is.

Here are some questions to open up conversation with your teens:

  • How do your peers talk about sex and porn? Do they think porn is normal?
  • How do you tell the difference between what’s real and what’s fake online?
  • What things do you enjoy doing that feel authentic and real?