An open demand for authenticity has taken over all social media platforms lately. From TikTok’s algorithm that evidently favors unmanicured content over its carefully edited counterpart (15-second clips of your nostrils with the silliest shower thoughts in the text overlay will perform better on the video-sharing app than a vlog well-shot), to the photo dump (a hodgepodge of messyly cropped, seemingly unfiltered images being thrown together on Instagram carousels), all of the emerging social media trends have ventured into surprisingly personal territory.
Taking the thirst for true transparency to a whole new level is BeReal. Unlike Instagram or TikTok, the recently launched app has no filters, video sharing capabilities, or fancy features on offer. It also doesn’t have an algorithm to guide the content you see. All BeReal allows you to do is make a single post each day. The kicker? Every day, your alert goes off at a random and unpredictable time, and you only have two minutes to post something once you do.
If it fails, like it used to, you’ll get an alarming notification letting you know you’re running late. You also won’t be able to see anyone else’s posts during the day, until you post something yourself. When you finally do, your post will be prominently marked with a ‘Late’ tag.
This is all apparently to encourage users to abide by the app’s unspoken contract to post whatever they’re actually doing when the daily alert goes off, no matter how unflattering. To me, the tight time limit and strict rules felt almost draconian, akin to job deadlines, which as any writer will know are nightmare fuel.
My first days in BeReal passed quite calmly. I barely had any friends on the app at this stage, and I was posting ugly (and completely unfiltered) photos of my emails in a vacuum. BeReal’s nifty dual camera feature requires you to use your phone’s front and back lenses at the same time, painting a full portrait of both your boring surroundings and your tired face for easy viewing.
Like any medium, one of the greatest joys of social media is the ability to, in some small way, heal
If it’s not already eerily clear, one key takeaway I’ve gained from spending time on BeReal is just how repetitive my life really is. I have a creative job, I have a vibrant social life and I enjoy the occasional party. And yet somehow I ended up with amazingly similar permutations of the same image every day.
Without realizing it, this led to phase two of my BeReal adventures: deception. While the app’s randomness is designed to extract authenticity, the discovery of my own monotony pushed me to save my BeReals for when I knew I’d be doing something fun. It started out innocently enough: On the fourth day, I waited five minutes past the deadline to watch a meal my partner was cooking instead of my laptop screen. But at the end of the week, I stopped for hours just to capture something interesting.
This was clearly dodgy behavior, but I didn’t feel as guilty as I should have, as several of the friends I had added on BeReal at this time were also regularly posting late. It seemed conspiratorial and pointless at the same time, and it certainly wasn’t just us feeling the pressure to delay our BeReals. With TikTok already abuzz with memes about missed BeReal alerts that are really just an obvious cover for people looking to showcase their best moments, the problem with the app became painfully clear.
Like any medium, one of the greatest joys of social media is the ability to somehow heal. Even the most insensitive photo dump has an element of selectivity, a sense of subject matter. There’s thought behind what you choose to post, and a varying degree of creativity goes into, well, creating the content you post.
By removing that agency, BeReal drains the heart of what social media engagement is all about. Without the ability to add value to what we publish through skill, imagination or intention, what we are left with, dangerously, are the bare bones of reality. The only way to capture something good in the app every day is to have access to good things and places all the time. Otherwise, your memories of BeReal are likely to come across as a sad social experiment.
This might not have been a problem if BeReal existed in a higher plane of illumination than other social media apps, above the addictively positive feedback loop of receiving likes and comments on your posts, and the sinking void of not be able to match your food.
Here, there is no featured reel. There is also no room for willful vulnerability. There is only one ubiquitous all-seeing camera that can claim a snapshot of your life at any moment. I wasn’t afraid it would catch me at a bad time, but at a time that would expose the truth to the world: that, like everyone else, I’m completely boring.
There is only one conclusion here: I’m just not ready to be as real as this app demands. What makes me feel better, though, is that clearly no one else is.