LinkedIn Shame, Bridesmaid Burnout, God Chatbots and a Nonprofit That Could Fix America's Political Divide | Non-Obvious Insights #412

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Dear Newsletterest,

Will the evolution of God chatbots inspire a new crisis of faith in religion? Do you feel like you are sharing your true personality on social media? What can the "bridesmaid burnout" reveal about honest friendship conversations? Can you really count on AI tools to plan the itinerary for your next holiday? Does this nonprofit have the secret to solving America's political division? All these stories and more in this week's non-obvious newsletter.  Enjoy the stories!

Stay curious,



PS - For those of you who asked, my full 2024 SXSW new talk was just released a few days ago on YouTube. Watch the full talk here >>
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What's Wrong With God Chatbots? Inside The AI Future Of Religion

Nearly every faith now has several chatbots trained on religious texts and designed by technologists with the ambitious belief that these could make religion more approachable and accessible for a new generation.

An article from this month's Scientific American magazine notes that in addition to allowing anyone to seek spiritual guidance from bots that promise to offer “faithful translations of the scriptures,” academics are also using these tools to compare "linguistic variations" among translations of various ancient texts and even conduct complex "sentiment analysis" on the language used. Spiritual or academic uses aside, unsurprisingly there are many critics of this technology as well. 

A major concern is the potential for manipulation. As one scholar and ethicist noted, "There’s going to be a temptation to make money, to make notoriety and to gain attention by ascribing some type of revelatory quality to these chatbots." It's an understandable worry. We have seen this before in the form of televangelists or other self-promoters who prey on people's faith to fund their own egos and private jets. It's reasonable to assume a similar greed could corrupt this new marriage of technology and faith. 

What if a religious chatbot, trained on passages from religious texts, starts to condone murder? Or encourages violence? The "solution" that most experts are advocating for now is to treat advice from these tools with a sense of caution. Good advice but potentially difficult to follow.

How To Post On LinkedIn (Or Social Media) Without Feeling Embarrassed

LinkedIn can be a cringey place. As a "jobs board with a social network layered on top of it," the platform has a consistent stream of people posting about their professional lives in moments of transition, desperation or elation. 

As a result, we all consistently end up on the receiving end of everything from self-congratulatory posts where people unnecessary declare themselves "humbled" by their own achievements to thinly disguised calls for help from people facing a daunting moment of career uncertainty. It's no wonder some people are calling out those "friends" who only connect when they need something. 

This is all part of what an article from Business Insider this week called the shame of LinkedIn. The story links this to a problem of "context collapse" on social media fueled by the reality that you are talking to all groups of people you know all at once, which can trap us all in a "culture of professionalism" where we are reluctant to be our true selves on LinkedIn because our boss and colleagues are there too. 

A place where we always feel the need to be on our best behavior can never also become a place where we are truly honest.

What The "Bridesmaid Burnout" Tells Us About the Future of Friendship

Back in early Fall of 2023, Glamour magazine launched a series of articles on the topic of "bridesmaid burnout." Inspired by the spiraling demands of time, money and emotional labor heaped upon bridesmaids, the series collected advice on everything from asking about financial expectations to how to decline being a bridesmaid without killing your friendship.

Are modern bridesmaids unwilling to just show up and be good friends anymore? Or have the expectations really become more unreasonable? As the series points out, these questions are not the point. Strong friendships require honesty ... particularly about the things no one really wants to talk about. And content like this helps open the door to have these conversations.

As we approach the start of what the industry calls wedding season, some of the articles in this series may be worth reading and sharing ... whether you happen to be a bridesmaid or just hoping to empathize with people involved in a wedding you'll be attending. 

The Good and Bad of Planning Your Next Trip Using AI Travel Tools

The promise is appealing. Just put your desired holiday destination into an AI travel planning tool and it can quickly generate a sample itinerary with all the must-visit sights from a certain destination. Yet as one journalist found when doing a test of AI as a trip planning assistant, there are some pretty big tradeoffs you'll need to be willing to make.

To start, there is the obvious limitation that AI will likely use outdated information to built the itinerary - which means restaurants that have gone out of business or incomplete information about opening and closing times. Also, AI will often omit insights about destinations that may be inaccessible for those with disabilities or those that offer adjusted seasonal experiences.

Not to mention AI-generated itineraries are mostly just built by scraping information from content already created by notable travel sites like Lonely Planet or Fodors anyway ... so why not start wth those platforms instead? Bottom line: definitely try and do some research on AI tools for an upcoming trip if you want, but the best travel insights at the moment still come from people who have been there and human travel professionals.

NOTE - The image above was AI generated. 

This Brilliant Nonprofit Might Have The Answer To Solve America's Political Division

The widely publicized death of local news has created a knowledge and truth void when it comes to very important public questions. Like how are your tax dollars being spent? And what decisions are being made on a local level that affect your life and your community? Unless you happen to be a citizen with a deep commitment to doing your civic duty, what you know about politics is probably shaped by the circus of national news media. This is bad for many reasons, but the biggest is that a lack of knowledge about the actual value of government makes anyone more easily manipulated to belief false declarations from politicians. 

For the past six years, a nonprofit called Documenters.org has pursued a bold agenda to educate and inform citizens by finding and paying volunteers to attend under-reported public meetings and publish recaps of what happened. To date, they have paid more than $600k to citizen journalists who often end up as the sole voice in public meetings to hold decision makers accountable and reveal what really happens in local politics.

Imagine if every high school or college in America required students to participant in Documenters and attend a public meeting. Or if an element of skills training for the unemployed included encouragement to report on public meetings (and be paid for it). There are so many ways this platform could have a lasting impact on our shared culture. If more people knew it existed. 

Even More Non-Obvious Stories ...

Every week I always curate more stories than I'm able to explore in detail. Instead of skipping those stories, I started to share them in this section so you can skim the headlines and click on any that spark your interest:
How are these stories curated?
Every week I spend hours going through hundreds of stories in order to curate this email. Looking for a speaker to inspire your team to become non-obvious thinkers through a keynote or workshop?  Watch my new 2024 speaking reel on YouTube >>
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