BeReal is the anti-Instagram social media app that’s designed to show people’s lives as they really are by encouraging users to post during random, two-minute time increments during the day. It’s an interesting experiment and a fun app that, in practice, creates a different type of fake social media dystopia: one where everyone’s life looks bleaker and more boring than it actually is.
As our colleagues wrote last week, BeReal is becoming popular as a more casual form of social media, and has steadily moved up the App Store’s top app charts. The thinking behind the app is the very, uhh, real concern that much of social media is staged to make people’s lives look more glamorous and interesting than they actually are, leading to FOMO, sadness, jealousy, screaming, crying, and throwing up for the people who have to watch their friends and celebrities cycle through an endless stream of weddings, vacations, and partying.
“Your Friends for Real," is BeReal's slogan. "Everyday at a different time, everyone is notified simultaneously to capture and share a Photo in 2 Minutes. A new and unique way to discover who your friends really are in their daily life."
I have been using BeReal for three weeks now, and it’s fun because it is ever so slightly different than the other apps and interesting enough that I have not yet deleted it. It is not, however, "real" in any sense of the word. If Instagram has the problem of making people's lives look artificially glamorous, BeReal has the problem of making people's lives look extremely (EXTREMELY) boring.
Because BeReal sends you a notification and a two-minute timer to capture your post of the day, the people it's hitting are the people who are actively looking at their phones at that moment. This means that looking through BeReal's feeds shows an endless stream of people laying in bed, sitting in class, commuting on the bus or subway, working at their desks, staring at walls, or otherwise in places where they are actively using their phones or doomscrolling.
It is true that scrolling through your phone in bed or glancing down at your phone during work is a "real" part of human existence that isn't really accurately captured by other social media. But BeReal is inherently missing most interesting activities that someone might do with their time, which encapsulates any number of also "real" things and experiences that are a more “real” insight into who they "really are in their daily life" than images of their immediate surroundings on days that they happen to be looking at their phone when the BeReal notification is sent.
Lots of people are doing cool shit at least some of the time, presumably when they’re not looking at their phones. Instagram may also not be "real," but at least I can decide that I want to capture and share an interesting thing that I'm doing, if I want to. For example, I surf / bike / hike / hang out with friends on a semi-regular basis (cool, I know), but none of that is on BeReal, because I'm not looking at my phone while I'm doing that stuff. It is possible for me to take out my phone and snap a picture of a hike and still be "present in the moment" and for me to share this real thing that I did on Instagram, and for that to be a more "real" encapsulation of my life than me pointing my phone at a wall when I return from one of these activities and happen to see that I missed the BeReal notification (the app lets you post "late" but shames you for doing so).
It's true that Instagram is capturing people's curated highlights, but BeReal is capturing ... not much of anything at all.