Why do horoscope predictions not leave me indifferent?

While she got caught up in the game of Co-Star, the astrology application that is all the rage with young people, our editor Stefania Gherca wonders when rereading the philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge what is the mental state, half ironic half credulous, in which one enters when one consults one’s horoscope. Give me your date, time and place of birth, I will tell you who you are.

Or rather, Co-Star will tell you. Every four seconds, someone downloads this astrology social network based on the power of artificial intelligence. If no one admits to really believing it, my circle of friends and, anecdotally, 5.3 million people have the application and consult it regularly. What is this success due to, even among minds attached to reason like me? Is it curious skepticism or embarrassing credulity?

digital crystal ball

Co-Star’s success certainly lies in its hyper-customization. Where classic horoscopes are neglected for their lack of precision, allowing everyone to recognize themselves in fuzzy aphorisms, the application does the opposite, by offering a personal birth chart, something that was only accessible before. ‘by paying an astrologer. So I learned that I am not only Sagittarius, but also Aries ascendant, and that I was born when Venus was in Scorpio… In short, confirmation that I am someone unique and that no one has ever experienced my perspective on life.

Daily, the application generates my “day at a glance”, formulated as an indication of a path to follow. Lately, she’s been advising me not to “get into the habit of constantly denying myself” or, conversely, to “let someone else pick the movie”, to “let me fluctuate”. Sometimes direct, taking on the appearance of personal development but never without a philosophical touch, these machine-generated texts are perfected by poets, the company defends itself.

Even more precise, Co-Star generates “do” and “don’t” – the application is in English – either a list of things to do or not to do for each day, and predicts success in different spheres of life, ranging from love to creativity. Being able to add your friends and test its compatibility is what makes the application, with its aesthetics devoid of colors but punctuated with emoticons, a real social network.

“No, but I don’t really believe it”

You might think that the wide success of the application is due to the desire to trust the stars to fulfill a desire for stability, for control over an unpredictable destiny. That’s partly true, but I don’t think it justifies the sky-high download numbers. If some have doubts, the majority of these people would not let themselves be totally overwhelmed by reading a horoscope. Even if they don’t really believe it, they still watch, semi-skeptically.

It must be said that the vogue for astrology seems to have been revived in recent years, in particular on social networks, with “millenials” and “Generation Z” as targets. There are countless Instagram accounts with millions of followers whose existence is based on reading the stars. The new very short video formats, also present on the platform but of which TikTok makes its specificity, are teeming with stagings of the different astrological signs.

A la carte role-playing games

So I’m the perfect target. And I confess that I have already happened to look successively at the weather application then Co-Star when I wake up. Asking the sky if I should take an umbrella that day, but also if I’m going to be creative. This is where reading Co-Star holds an almost theatrical function for me. I start doing everything “as if”. I open the application “as if” I thought it was really going to give me keys to understanding my day, I look at the predictions “as if” they were really based on my life… Finally, it’s as if I put myself in the shoes of a theater actress and that Co-Star was an agent presenting me with a role. A custom-written role, inspired by my own life. But a role that remains autofiction. The advantage of the semi-skeptical posture is that my gaze remains detached: if the application predicts a terrible day, I will forget about it within half an hour. A game that brings with it the enthusiasm and comedy of incarnation.

“It’s like putting myself in the shoes of a theater actress and Co-Star being an agent presenting me with a role”

Beyond the predictions, the essential is therefore in the community that Co-Star has been able to create. The application does almost no paid marketing: I myself was persuaded to install the application by a friend who was already a fan. I am convinced that I would surely not use it if I could not share my predictions with others. Whether the predictions are true or not, it doesn’t matter, the question isn’t even asked. It is rather a gateway to put on the mask and join the theater troupe.

Astrology, social mask

Close friends, missed dates, distant relative but young and cool, there is no typical profile of the Co-Star friend. Except perhaps the fact that it is a person devoid of perfect rationality. Because I can’t talk about Co-Star to just anyone. The contempt of others and the accusation of ridicule quickly arrived. If the semi-skeptical posture protects me from it, it is true that too virulent criticism would warn me.

On this subject, the sociologist Erving Goffman considers all human interaction to be a theatrical performance. He writes in The staging of everyday life (1959): “ It is probably not by pure historical chance that the word person, in its first sense, signifies a mask. Rather, it is the recognition that everyone, always and everywhere, plays a role, more or less consciously. In each social circle, my role is therefore to correspond to the image that others have of me. My mask changes depending on who is in front of me. As a daughter, as a friend, as a colleague: I don’t make the same jokes, I don’t wear the same clothes, I mention the astrology question or not.

Very quickly, too, the conversations around lunch changed. The traditional “how’s your day going?” is now quickly followed by a “what did Co-Star say to you today?” “. The forecasts are also only a pretext. It is actually a code. A code opening the sesame of deeper discussions, relating in particular to mental health. If the taboo decreases, it remains difficult to start a conversation by asking our interlocutor if he is still following therapy. Co-Star makes it possible. Yesterday, the application advised me to talk about my anxieties to a friend: a light way to encourage people to come out of isolation and take care of each other. The application also boasts of being recommended by health professionals.

An “involuntary suspension of disbelief”

So I tried to understand what mental state I find myself in when I do this ironic reading. It’s a bit like reading a fairy tale: I know fairies don’t exist. Yet believing in it is necessary for the sake of the story. I act “as if”. As a general rule, however, I am suspicious of the non-existent. But my relationship to reality changes in the face of a well-directed story. The English critic Samuel Taylor Coleridge Talk about “deliberate suspension of disbelief” : a sacrifice made for the benefit of the narration.

Before a horoscope, the path is reversed. At first I experience resistance: fundamentally, my reading is ironic. Really, I don’t believe it. And then one day, one of the thousand morning predictions I read comes true. A moment of doubt wrung from me: what if there was some truth in all this? Contrary to Coleridge’s formula, here it is a “suspension involuntary disbelief”, since it was not wanted at the start. Don’t worry, I never get stuck in this state, but it’s definitely this cognitive loop that keeps me waiting for Co-Star’s daily notification.

If I continue to go on the application therefore, it is that apart from perhaps a slight loss of time, there are not really any harmful consequences to doing so. To become an actress for a few moments and to be surprised to let go of rationality is on the contrary rather attractive.

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Why do horoscope predictions not leave me indifferent?

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