I wake up in the morning and groan. A new app has been snaking its way across the perilous landscapes of discourse and it has finally come to infect my loved ones. “Add me on BeReal,” reads the scripted invite from a friend. I ignore it, and continue scrolling for another two hours.
If you have not yet heard about BeReal, apologies in advance. It claims it is “not another social network”, and it has been exalted, time and time again, as the “anti-Instagram”. At a random time each day, it sends out a notification to all its users and gives them exactly two minutes to drop everything and take a near-simultaneous pair of photos: a selfie from the front of the camera, to show your general vibe; and a snap facing outward, to show what you’re up to.
The aim is to offer an antidote to the manicured worlds of other platforms and all their algorithmic anxiety. As we learned over the last week, Instagram hates you now and won’t stop blasting full-volume videos from accounts you don’t follow – despite Kim and Kylie’s best efforts. Facebook, meanwhile, is a crypto bro packed with phishing memes and none of your friends. Clearly, the promise of a spontaneous alternative has struck a nerve: people are fleeing to BeReal in droves – 7 million of them, in fact, making it the top free app on the App Store across Australia, the UK, and the US.
But when the invite rolls in, I think, “be real?”. Like anyone else who did drama in high school, I am barely even being real in real life: exaggeration is my baseline; hyperbole is my bread and butter (which, by the way, is LITERALLY my favorite meal and simply transcendent as to gorgeous mid-morning snack when ABSOLUTELY NOTHING ELSE will suffice). This is the way I communicate on a daily basis: a parade of all caps and unintelligible screeches that some would call “performative” (and most would call “annoying”). Nothing is ever “good” if it can be “sooooo slay bestie fjlsdjkflasdjklf it’s giving everything”. Earnestness is the enemy.
I relay all of these protests to my friends. “You are insane,” they reply. Reluctantly, I download the app.
The first thing the app does is yell at me: “TAP ME TO CONTINUE!” As a newcomer, I must immediately post my first BeReal within two minutes, measured by a timer that ominously resembles a bomb. Unfortunately, it is 9.30am on a Thursday and I am extremely hungover. (If you are my editor please disregard this previous sentence.)
I sprint up to my bedroom, slap on a pair of sunglasses and a puffer jacket, and hold my phone out at a distance where you can’t quite make out my pallid complexion and possibly a forehead bruised from the night before.
I hope my look is “just stepped out of Berghain” instead of “unshowered”. As the timer reaches zero, I take the shot, heart pounding.
Bomb defused – at least until I return downstairs, where I am promptly told off by my partner for posting outside the allotted time. Against my noisy objections, I am shown the evidence – his BeReal notification on his phone: “michael.pdf just posted late”. I cannot believe I am being publicly named and shamed. “What is this?” I say. “The PANOPTICON???” He does not look impressed.
After a measly four hours, the app, like a very needy dog, goes off again for my first official daily post. Luckily, I am prepared this time – my ring light is in front of me and I have finally washed my hair. Unluckily, my partner decides this is the perfect opportunity to reveal my grotesquely canny ways to the world, posting an unflattering photo of me adjusting said ring light. I make a sound at him that is somewhere between a groan and a growl. This app is tearing us apart.
I am fully aware that my resistance to authenticity brands me a sicko in the year 2022 – or worse, an influencer – especially when all the evil forces of the universe (TikTok, trend forecasters, 19-year-olds who are cooler than me) have conspired to bring about the rise of a distinctly unfiltered aesthetic. Whether branded as indie sleaze or “casual posting”, it’s an aesthetic that manifests as lo-fi, with supposedly artless shots that are often blurry and always badly lit – a complaint of Myspace photos and early Facebook albums telegraphing a disdain for any sort of staged composure.
I could reach for the easy rebuttal: even the most authentic posts are constructed, everything online is ultimately a sham, etc etc. But the truth is that I am an insecure twentysomething who would like to continue catfishing all my followers with one devastating selfie every six months.
The only devastating thing about BeReal, meanwhile, is how sad its feed is. For the first few days, all I see are pictures of beige breakfasts, work laptops, blurry beers at the pub. I love you, I want to say to my friends, but I don’t want to know what your ceiling fan looks like. I screenshot one good post amid the rabble and find out, with a rude shock, that the app has snitched, sending an alert to the other party with breathless excitement: “One of your friends took a screenshot!” Beneath, you can make out my blurred username and profile picture if you squint hard enough. How can I even be my authentic self when my authentic self is someone who takes screenshots profusely and sends them to five different group chats for analysis?
Something finally shifts on day four; BeReal has broken me. The app goes off this time just before midday, ticking down in that menacing way. I am a shell of my carefully curated self, unable to muster the energy to post anything except a dim, terrible, ugly photo from the trenches (my bed).
It’s not exactly liberating. But it is … pleasantly boring? As it joins the morass of other half-assed contributions in the feed, my own begins to feel less like a cry for help and more like a silent salute. I see you, we all say to each other, and we are in this miserable little existence together. A camaraderie of enforced mediocrity: was this the meaning of BeReal all along?