Technology is coming through for us all in a big way in the age of Trump.
There's a lot going on in the world right now, and it makes total sense if you're feeling a bit overwhelmed. I am too.
Hurricane recovery, wildfires ripping along the West Coast, rising tensions with North Korea, repeated threats to the state of health care in this country, trans people being banned from the military, people from other countries being banned from traveling here, Title IX protections being reinterpreted, environmental protections being gutted, professional sports becoming a divisive topic — the list goes on and on.
Maybe one of these causes really hits home for you. Maybe you want to help, but don't know where to even start. I hear that, and as someone who is both plugged into current events and prone to anxiety attacks when presented with complicated situations, getting involved can be really overwhelming.
I've turned to robots for help. Yes, robots.
A slew of new chatbots have come out in the past year or so, and they're really useful for people, like me, who are feeling overwhelmed by the world around them.
Some chatbots, such as infinite conversation application Cleverbot, are little more than novelties, but others are actually improving lives in tangible ways.
DoNotPay is a chatbot that started out as a way to automatically challenge parking tickets in court, but now includes the ability to sue Equifax in the wake of its massive data breach. Other bots, such as 5 Calls and Resistbot, make contacting your representatives in Congress a breeze.
One of the newest chatbots I've added to my life recently is called Hope.
When you open up the app's chat dialogue in your phone's browser, you're presented with a handful of the day's top stories. Tell it which one you're curious about, and it will ask if you're interested in getting more context, want links to more detailed sources, or it gives you the option of learning how you can help.
The interface is simple, feels natural, and makes for a pretty smooth user experience for chatbot power-users as well as relative newbies. I was drawn in by its ability to distill overwhelming events into single action items. For example, if you select the "How can I help?" option when reading about recovery in Puerto Rico, you'll be prompted to donate to either the Hispanic Federation, a nonprofit currently being promoted by Lin-Manuel Miranda, or Bethenny Frankel's B Strong initiative. Clicking "Donate" takes you directly to the individual charities' websites.
"Sometimes we'll see a really cool action [people can take] tied to a news story and build it out from there," says Marisa Kabas, Hope's editorial director, describing the process as a bit of a "chicken and egg" situation.
One thing Kabas and her team ask themselves before highlighting a story on Hope is whether there's actually something people can do with the news item. In other words, it's unlikely you'll see much about Trump's tweets or the controversy in reaction to those tweets on Hope. Kabas says that those types of stories are "just adding to the noise" and are often unproductive.
While the simplicity and narrow focus of Hope is one of its strengths, it's also one of the bot's biggest weaknesses, as its "help" options are currently limited to a somewhat sparse selection of topics. Still, if you're feeling stressed, but interested in finding out how to get involved in a specific cause, Hope is a pretty solid first place to check.
Whether you're looking for a new way to consume news, contact your representatives, or take action, there's probably a chatbot out there for you.
Maybe, like me, you're easily overwhelmed by what Kabas refers to as "the noise," the superfluous-yet-predictable result of a 24-hour news and entertainment media. Or maybe, like so many of us, you're just really busy and don't have time to tackle every thing happening in the world all at once.
The bots mentioned above are great because they do a lot of the work for you, helping you be informed while giving you real, tangible things you can do to make your life even just a little bit easier.
Disclaimer: We were not paid to promote any of the products mentioned in this article. We just thought they were pretty cool.