Co-star: Personalized astrology as a form of communication

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On: September 28, 2020
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COURTESY OF CO-STAR

Astrology, the study of cosmic objects, human patterns and seasonal shifts, has been practiced for decades, predominantly in three different cultures, Western, Hindu, and Chinese. For some, it exists as a coping mechanism to cushion uncertainty. However, for others, it is nothing more than the punchline of pseudoscience. With the growth of contemporary digital culture, astrology has grown into the way we communicate on the internet. The impact it has on web culture is so significant, you almost cannot escape it. It shows up in memes, viral tweets, personality quizzes, and, more recently, with the advent of personalized apps, astrology apps. Astro Guide, Sanctuary, The Pattern, and Co-star are frontrunners in the world of personalized astrology. They are known to utilize users’ birth data (date, location, and time of birth) to generate personalized readings. Each of these apps has its own je ne sais quoi factor but Co-star was the first to add social affordance, ‘the social structures that take shape in association with a given technical structure’ (Postigo). 

Arguably most popular of these apps, Co-star is based on an algorithm tuned by professional astrologers and creative writers. The app provides a user with an in-depth chart based on daily readings. These readings summarize the key characteristics of their personality. Along with that, it allows users to measure their compatibility with friends, nemeses, crushes, etc. According to the company’s website, the app allegedly generates its daily readings through a methodical analysis of sun, moon, and rising sign; astrological houses; and every planetary placement. It is powered by artificial intelligence merging with NASA data and the insights of human astrologers. Everyday, the user gets accurate analyses in categories such as work, social life, sex and love, thinking and creativity, and self. Depending on the day or how the sun is positioned to a degree from different planets, and when a person was born, these categories either bring ‘power’ or ‘trouble’ (The Verge).  It parallels social media as it allows users to add their friends and synchronize their contacts. The app’s social features let users compare their birth charts and learn their compatibilities. There are a plethora of actors: both human and non-human software actions mediate friendship on this app. Technology here is not neutral, it is rather the productive force that makes users relate to self and others (Bucher). Additionally, users get a daily prediction as a push notification of ‘our day at a glance. Just as a friend would critique you, these notifications might not always feel good. For instance, ‘Check your ego’ and, ‘Do you play well with others?’ Or, ‘Don’t use big words,’ are some of the cynical-toned notifications users get. The team at Co-star is constantly trying to make sure their humor is translated well on the app but this daily dose of tough love has made users take screenshots of these notifications and circulate them on social media as memes and viral tweets. Millennials and Gen Zs thrive on this app despite the dark humor. Co-stars’ ability to deliver backhanded compliments or make users self-aware has been a way for users to bond or have a small talk (Newsweek).

COURTESY OF INSTAGRAM

Co-star: a new form of communication/networking

‘Features are “communicational actors” in the sense that they “produce meanings and meaningfulness”’ (Langlois). The communicative actors in Co-star are the comparison of a user’s birth chart and a daily ‘you can learn from __’ push notifications. Through these features, users nurture their friendships and benefit from these social tools as they encourage messaging their friends or having introspective conversations. Who are they? What do they love? What breaks their hearts? These are some of the questions that make users contemplate, instigate vulnerability, and get to know their friends at a deeper level.

Aristotle justifies that friendship is a relationship that hinges on shared activity, reciprocity, mutual contact, and joint pursuits (Aristotle). The CEO of Co-star, Banu Guler, states that there is an emotional, thoughtful and structured context on the platform as astrology is a friend; it is something that can witness your life and help make sense of it. Unlike other social networking websites where you endlessly scroll through people’s beautiful lives, you get to scroll through what people are actually thinking and doing—this helps people have earnest conversations whilst reflecting on their own lives. Even though astrology is not science, it is something people use to explain their feelings. This idea of collective self-care is what fundamentally helps us build relationships and connect us with others. Guler also argues that the whole point of full natal chart astrology is that people are complex; they have multiple hidden layers. Maybe your ego is structured in a certain way, so you communicate in a different way. One loves and takes action in different ways. Talking about why you are, the way you are is how you relate to others (The Verge). Guler’s mother used to do readings for her when she was younger, or else having conversations about feelings was out of the question. Furthermore, in subtle ways, the software nudges notification reminds and introduces users to people they may know (Bucher). This encourages users to connect with other people, as likeliness brings people closer together. This whole new language of personalized astrology is how people communicate. As Smallwood stated in The New Yorker, ‘That is one of my favorite things, as a Leo and as a person—building community’ (The New Yorker).

McLuhan states that the medium is the message, where the ‘message’ is how the change of scale or pattern a new invention ‘introduces to human affairs’ (McLuhan). Co-star has changed interpersonal dynamics with personalized astrology. It has created a new way of thinking and communicating. The app brands itself as a personalized, social astrology experience and has future plans of adding more social features. As any other tech company, Co-star dreams of ‘bringing people together’. On the contrary, with the rise of technology and users relying on apps for almost everything—how effective are these personalized astrology apps on really “bringing people together”?

References:

Aristoteles, et al. The Nicomachean Ethics. Penguin, 2004.

Bucher, Taina. “The Friendship Assemblage.” Television & New Media, vol. 14, no. 6, SAGE Publications, 2012, pp. 479–93, doi:10.1177/1527476412452800.

Bucher, T. The Affordances of Social Media Platforms. Sage Publications,, 2018.

Co – Star: Hyper-Personalized, Real-Time Horoscopes. www.costarastrology.com/.

“Co-Star Is More Than Just An Astrology App, It’s A Community”. Newsweek, 2020, https://www.newsweek.com/co-star-astrology-app-instagram-1451220.

Hodgkinson, Anthony W. “McLuhan’s ‘Understanding Media.’” AV Communication Review, vol. 13, no. 4, 1965, pp. 441–443. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/30217253. Accessed 27 Sept. 2020.

Jones, Allie. Rising Signs. 4 Oct. 2019, www.theverge.com/2019/10/4/20879631/co-star-astrology-app-zodiac-signs.

Langlois G. Meaning in the Age of Social Media. New York: Palgrave Macmillan US. Available from: http://link.springer.com/10.1057/9781137356611. Accessed 27 September 2020.

Postigo, Hector. “The Socio-Technical Architecture Of Digital Labor: Converting Play Into Youtube Money”. New Media & Society, vol 18, no. 2, 2014, pp. 1-5. SAGE Publications, doi  10.1177/1461444814541527.

Quartz. Astrology Isn’t Science, But Your Horoscope Is More Real Than You Think. 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oH2UWiUbpjE. Accessed 27 Sept 2020.

Smallwood, Christine. “Astrology In The Age Of Uncertainty”. The New Yorker, 2020, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/10/28/astrology-in-the-age-of-uncertainty.

Syd, Robinson. “This Horoscope App’s Notifications Are Being Memed Now, And It’s The Only Thing Getting Me Through Mercury Retrograde.” BuzzFeed, BuzzFeed, 19 Mar. 2019, www.buzzfeed.com/sydrobinson1/costar-astrology-app-memes.


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