Sometimes the most loving thing is letting go.
Find a way to neutralize people who have power over you.
Stop expecting, start communicating.
It’s never too late to mend things.
Deep breaths. You’ve got this.
Tell someone how much they mean to you today. People need more love than they show.
The viral platforms Co-Star and We’re Not Really Strangers (WNRS), the sources of these titillating messages, push a narrative that reflection and vulnerability are the keys to growth and connection. Co-Star being rooted in AI-driven astrology and WNRS in a card game with a cult following, the platforms encourage self-questioning in a manner tied to fate and prophecy. They suggest to the user that they were “meant to receive” these mysterious blurbs for some intangible reason—that the signal from the universe that “the most loving thing is letting go” is one worth contemplating, that the need to “start communicating” has some merit. As an active user of the Co-Star app and subscriber to the WNRS text chain, I openly anticipate these ambiguous messages, thinking to myself, what will they throw at me this time?
Bizarre WNRS and Co-Star updates are often mocked and reshared on social media for shock value or their comedic relief, as if an outlandish bit from the void that “Your nervous energy won’t be especially useful today” defines one’s life for the time being. Nonetheless, this reality of receiving a text or horoscope that doesn’t hit the mark begs the question of whether the messages unnecessarily complicate one’s thoughts. They introduce perspectives that one did not ask for or quite frankly need. Is there value in the uncalled for, in the haziness of an enigmatic text? Are these “reflection-inducing” messages actually productive? Despite the nebulousness and air of existentialism inherent in random mass-messaging, I believe Co-Star and WNRS serve a greater purpose: they press users to consider ideas they wouldn’t have reached on their own.
Conceptually, Co-Star and We’re Not Really Strangers vastly differ. Co-Star’s identity as an astrological tracker connects users’ horoscopes to the stars, suggesting that their messages are not all that random after all. According to Vogue, the app’s AI technology uses data from the publicly accessible Jet Propulsion Laboratory to map out the position of the planets and translate this data into artful horoscopes and messages. The daily horoscopes are part of a wider network of app functions including the ability to compare astrological compatibility with friends, making the platform a pseudo-form of social media.
We’re Not Really Strangers, by contrast, started as a simple project: the movement’s creator and CEO Koreen Odiney would approach strangers to take photos of them and ask them their name, age, and what they are passionate about. This trio of queries morphed into the basis of the three “levels” of Odiney’s famed card game: perception, connection, and reflection. Moving sequentially through the levels from questions like “do you think I’ve been in love?” to “what’s the most pain you’ve been in that wasn’t physical?” To “What can I help you with?,” the strategically designed game pushes players to go deeper when it comes to asking questions and listening. The WNRS text chain is completely separate from the card game, yet the underlying message of inspiring reflection remains the same. What is perhaps especially remarkable about the text chain, then, is that the questions and statements raised jump right into the deeper third level of reflection. Users simply text a random number to sign up for the text chain and each day the service sends a quick text of surprising depth. With the absence of other players, reflecting on the text chain’s messages is internal and independently carried out. The focus isn’t on relationships with others, but with the self.
Both Co-Star and WNRS have soared in popularity in recent years and during the pandemic. The universalism of their messages makes their ideas easy to apply to a wide user-base, attractive to a population desperate to find meaning in a time of great uncertainty and societal change. The very randomness of the messages themselves and their unknown, all-over-the-place send times only augment the thrill of receiving another message; finding meaning doesn’t follow a schedule, but comes organically when least expected. Though subscribing to the value of “random” messages comes with the acceptance of their lack of veracity, applying their concepts to real life shows the random blurbs can make an impact on someone’s life. In offering bits of wisdom and unfiltered advice right from the get-go, the messages can stand in for a friend or loved one, enabling independent growth through introspection. As I imagine it, the allure of these messages links to a greater desire of users to give meaning to the everyday, to the unknown. Personally, even if nothing in my life immediately jumps out at me as relevant to a given message, I’m left searching for even minute ways I can connect my lived experience to the ideas raised.
The quest for giving meaning to the ordinary lies at the heart of both Co-Star and We’re Not Really Strangers’ text chains. Regardless of whether the messages resonate with the individual, they introduce entirely new perspectives the user can ponder and even act upon. As WNRS creator Koreen Odiney remarks, this moment is “about reconnecting with ourselves and others—we can’t necessarily go out and meet a bunch of new people right now, but we can strengthen those bonds more than ever right now.” An impulse toward self-reflection isn’t one most individuals revert to, so the messages from Co-Star and WNRS provide a rare opportunity to just reflect, all with the simple opening of a message.
By Sophie Johnson
Illustration by Emma Baynes