I Did Everything My Astrology Apps Told Me for a Week

Do AI-generated reminders actually lead to self-improvement? I signed up for all the notifications I could handle to find out.

by Laura Bell
Nov 20 2019, 1:34pm

Photos by Kezia Nathe

Despite trying to be cosmically well versed, I don’t really use astrology for much more than spouting the line “I’m a Scorpio” on dates to cheekily suggest I’m emotionally unavailable but in a sexy way, or using it to find out which shade of Stanley Tucci I might be (turns out the pensive, aloof and maybe disappointed kind).

But I do, along with my millennial compadres, fall into the cliché that I, nine times out of 10, have no idea what I’m doing (in life, love, and literal space and time). Astrology is a great way to feel connected to something larger and less messy, and its guidance I often find quite helpful.

Online, we are all self-improvement mad. We are obsessed with becoming: Becoming fitter, becoming more mindful, becoming more self-aware, or becoming more resourceful at using run of the mill household objects to keep our electrical cords from getting tangled. Astrological apps seem to be yet another thing designed to help us in our never-ending quest to become better.

The AI-generated and often sociopathically honest “Your day at a glance” reminders from Co-star and the personality sermons from Pattern and Astroguide prove very popular with the apps’ users. (Disclosure: Astroguide is made by VICE).

Co-star reached 3 million downloads in April and mystical services are now a $2.2 billion industry in the U.S. Co-star’s daily reminders might feel telling in the same way a meme might tickle me: accessible and shareable but forgettable. Pattern feels telling in a cleave-my-soul-in-two-and-have-a-look-at-my-insides kinda way (so much so that its intuition felt intrusive), and Astroguide lies somewhere in between.

I decided to commit myself to the daily reminders of these apps in the hope that one might lead me somewhere that looks a little like self-improvement, or failing that, might just be a good excuse to talk about myself.

So what would I learn from letting the AI-generated cosmic realness from three of the top Astrology apps guide my humble existence for a week? Well you’ll just have to read and see but (spoiler) if you’re hoping to learn what Mercury being in retrograde means, I cannot help you.

Thursday, October 31

“Maybe you just need a good roll around in the hay.” —Co-Star

Well, this seemed like a good place to start, in that, for the most part, it made no real sense. Helpful? Probably not. Revealing? Not particularly. Room for obsessive self-unpacking? Always.

I pondered on this for about three minutes. First, it being Halloween and me living in Vancouver, a literal roll around in the hay this time of year would be chilly and most definitely quite spooky, so I wasn't really sure how much I would get out of it. However, if Co-star was suggesting sex and not verbatim hay rolling, then that was advice I could absolutely get on board with.

If it is writ upon the stars, then I must oblige. Deep into cuffing season, the levels of seduction are now quite minimal in my relationship. Any hay rolling is facilitated by a simple question, “Should we have sex?” to which there are usually three possible answers: “Sure,” “I’m a bit tired,” or “Well, you can have sex with me.” That night was no different bar the fact that it was Halloween and I was dressed as Fraulein Maria from The Sound of Music complete with woollen skirt and vest. But the outfit, plus the knowledge that said hay rolling was ordained by the stars, did give it a certain extra air of gravitas, I’ll admit.

Did I feel better afterwards? Of course, sex makes you feel good, but I probably didn't need the specific alignment of Saturn and Mars to tell me that.

Friday, November 1

“Forgive yourself and accept the person you are, not the person you one day might be.” —Pattern

This was the opening line from what essentially was a personal thesis on my Pattern app. It seemed quite wishy-washy initially but after failing to resist the prompt to “go deeper” and reading the extensive seven-pager about me and all my flaws, I felt so seen. “I do tend to feel criticized and judged by other people!!!” I lamented to friends over WhatsApp. But also, who doesn't?!

As self-reflective as astrology can be, it also might just be creating a common language for us all to excuse ourselves without actually taking ownership for what we have done. Have I broken up with people and cited my sign as the reason why? Absolutely. Am I proud of it? Well, I am a Scorpio, so…

All this revealed another pull towards the cosmos for me: that it is good to have a more obscure tool for self-reflection. Those 12 minutes I spent obsessively reading my personalized essay on Pattern helped me feel a little less self-critical, and discussing the notes at length with my friends helped me realize something else too—that just like describing your dream to someone the following day, it’s simply excruciatingly boring for anyone else who isn't you.

Saturday, November 2

“It is a perfect day to take an important decision regarding your love life.” —Astroguide

This tidbit was fairly juicy and comfortably vague so really it could mean anything. When combined with the rather cutting note from Co-star to “keep an eye on your desire to escape,” and Pattern’s message that “if you're having relationship difficulties right now, these are helping to reveal an important pattern within you,” made me feel uneasy. Time to spend my morning painfully evaluating my inability to commit to anything in my life? Sure!

My lease is up in December, so living together seemed like the logical next step for me and my girlfriend—though for a couple that spend most nights together this didn't feel big enough. The stars were crying out for something juicier, an “important decision.” Baby? No, too big. Joint holiday card? Absolutely not. Cat? Oh?! Alright then.

I know what you’re thinking, this sounds rather spondangerous and wildly irresponsible to make such a decision on an astrological whim but, honestly, we had been talking about living together and cats for a while so in reality it was quite boringly premeditated; it just so happened to fall on the same day that I got that nudge. Nevertheless, saying the stars made me do it is a good story and now at least if it all goes tits up, I can blame it all on Astroguide.

PSA: I am not suggesting we should all buy kittens just because the stars told us to… but ours is arriving February 2020.

Sunday, November 3

“The regular logical flow of events will appear to be disrupted.” —Astroguide

Mercury was retrograde. Ring the bell, alert the elders. Mercury was at it again.

Full disclosure, I have no idea what Mercury being retrograde actually means, other than what I've learned via social media: if you’re tired at work or forget to reply to an email, this is due to Mercury retrograde. If you put your jumper on inside out or spill yogurt down yourself, it’s Mercury’s bloody fault. If you step in a puddle or your period is extra malicious? You guessed it; that ghastly retrograde is back.

Today, all three apps, plus the increasing levels of banal anarchy trickling through my Instagram feed, alerted me ominously to the fact that Mercury was definitely retrograde. In short, we were all fucked.

Luckily, this being a phenomenon that is so widely feared by the general astrological populace, my quick google of “how to prepare for Mercury retrograde” had countless results. I chose to take the advice of a comprehensive Bustle article titled “Seven Ways to Prepare for Mercury Retrograde.” It included the instructions “Don't Push Your Luck” (impossible), “Check In With Yourself Emotionally” (dunno how), and “Get Financially Responsible” (excuse me?). Sadly for me, as retrograde had already descended, it was too late to be any of those things. I had to resort to just putting on a brave face, wearing my big comfy knickers, and getting on with it.

On the up side however, if Mercury was retrograde and I myself would experience “disrupted” events, so too must everyone around me, including the lovely lady who took my coffee order. I decided to test this theory in real life. In the jovial small talk between my ordering and paying I answered her “How’s it going?” with a sigh of “Well, Mercury’s retrograde,” followed by a melancholic shrug. “I hear you,” she replied sagely.

Despite neither of us revealing any realness about how we’re actually feeling, that one acknowledgement of current cosmic happenings seemed to disclose to each of us that we were feeling something, and afterwards I did feel a little better. Basically “Mercury retrograde” just means it’s a bit rainy, the giant knickers you’re wearing aren’t as comfy as you remember, and your day could probably be going better.

Monday, November 4

“You could write a love poem to yourself.” —Co-star

I’m not entirely sure how long Mercury stays retrograde, but I hypothesized it would probably last a while. Great, now I had an excuse other than PMS to cancel those drinks that I absolutely had no intention of going to. That frightful retrograde!

My quiet Monday blues along with Mercury’s antics and the fact that my umbrella turned inside out three times between my house and the station meant that the nudge from Co-star felt quite sweet, almost like the stars had my back.

I gave up on my naughty limerick quite quickly because it turns out I can’t rhyme for shit, but did it make me feel better? Well, writing a limerick is more fun than answering my emails so, absolutely!

Tuesday, November 5

“Cast a spell.” —Co-star

Vague, ambiguous, a little cheeky: I liked this one. Perhaps because it calls on the biggest draw that astrology has for me, which is the mysticism of it all. It does feel somewhat calming putting faith into a grander narrative rather than the shit we deal with day to day, and I would much rather put my future in the hands of Pluto than I would in Brexit.

Plus, “cast a spell” seemed like a fun task, so I sought counsel in my trusted guide, WikiHow. I scanned through the 25 quite complicated steps needed to perform basic witchcraft and quickly realized I had none of the necessary tools (bar a strong penchant for magic) to perform anything vaguely real. So instead I drew a pentagram on my notebook, closed my eyes, and imagined a world where Boris Johnson wasn't in charge of my future, and honestly, it really was magical.

Obviously this particular command offered me no practical advice at all, but it did remind me of what drew me to astrology in the first place: that believing in something bigger than myself is nice and fun, and hey, maybe in 2019 my relationship to the cosmos via my astrology apps is as close as I’ll get to my Hogwarts letter. I guess it will have to do.

Wednesday, November 6

“It’s time to take charge of your life.” —Astroguide

Hell yeah it is! Astroguide’s words of inane wisdom didn't totally go amiss; in fact, they hit me with a Lizzo-esque punch as I was walking down the street, and seemed fitting to end the week on. It was time to take charge of my bloody life. Thank you, universe.

Seven days inspecting the details of the planets and how they might affect me didn't really get me anywhere out of the ordinary. Sure, self-reflection in any capacity is a good thing, but this level of self-aggrandizing and analyzing in any other sphere (except probably therapy) would be called intense narcism, so it’s probably time to put the apps away for a while.

Astrology is far more a cultural, social, and psychological phenomenon than it would ever be a scientific one, but despite no scientific basis it has created a common language and never-ending supply of memes that just might help people express themselves and how they’re feeling, which, narcism aside, is a positive thing.

The appeal of astrology is that it’s a connection to the numinous, or cosmic part of yourself. This connection to the natural course of things feels almost like a humbling antidote to an existence spent online. But astrological apps, for me at least, seemed to reverse that. Instead they reduced my stars to just another thing to be studied solo during my insipid late night scrolling on yet another app that is designed to keep me hooked, and that might diminish their appeal.

Did these past seven days offer me practical day-to-day advice? Absolutely not. But did it at times make me feel like I was safely tucked up in the universe’s arms? Honestly, yes. Despite still not knowing what Mercury retrograde actually means, and as a demographic searching for reassurance, sometimes it is just nice to feel cosmically coddled.

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