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BeReal: can this new social media app stop your doomscrolling once and for all?

·5-min read
 (Isobel Van Dyke)
(Isobel Van Dyke)

Waiting for the overground in a strop because you just missed a train and have to wait eight minutes for the next. Dozing in the office loos trying to avoid work. An insipid meal deal featuring all-beige food items. Not only is this a day in the life of your typical office-dwelling Londoner, it’s also every post on Gen Z’s new favourite social media app, BeReal, where the aim of the game is reality — however banal that may be.

The photo-sharing app, founded in 2020 by French entrepreneur and former GoPro employee Alexis Barreyat, aims to be an antidote to the likes of Instagram and TikTok, through which we have become conditioned to sharing our lives — and seeing others’ — through a beautifully filtered and heavily curated lens. From sage interiors, cuisine-cum-cubism, soul destroying “fitness inspo” and #sunsoutbunsout, Instagram content has all got a bit same-old, same-old and more staged than ever. People have grown tired of the polished, false imagery — as demonstrated by ‘goblin mode’, the trend which took over the internet earlier this year. Think full ‘I’ve given up mode’ (see also: going to Tesco in your pjyamas, viewing hair-washing as an unnecessary evil and eating year-old Ryvita from the back of the cupboard for dinner).

One of Isobel’s posts on BeReal (Isobel Van Dyke)
One of Isobel’s posts on BeReal (Isobel Van Dyke)

Perhaps it’s high time we lost interest in perfection. The rise of influencers over the past decade has sparked endless conversations around Photoshop, Facetune and body image, while studies show that social media has increased demand for cosmetic surgery among young women, with the UK’s most popular procedures being facial enhancements, breast augmentations, tummy tucks and lipo. In 2017, France introduced a law requiring that any commercial image altered to make someone appear thinner must carry a warning - coincidentally, the same country from which BeReal originates. In January this year, UK MPs proposed a law to make it illegal to post digitally altered photos without disclosing it.

BeReal, as you might have guessed, is about authenticity and hopes to act as a contrast to the warped versions of ourselves we present on Instagram. Instead, the idea is that we share honest, unedited, organic snippets of what we’re really up to. Unlike other platforms, the app decides when you are going to post. Users receive a notification telling them it’s time to take their daily photo and are given a two-minute window to do so. The point is to post exactly where you are, what you’re doing and what you look like — with both your front and back cameras taking an image simultaneously.

BeReal asks you to post within a two-minute window (BeReal)
BeReal asks you to post within a two-minute window (BeReal)

Depending on how you look at it, there is either a fatal flaw or a genius twist to the concept: people are usually doing something incredibly boring. If your phone is in your hand when you get notified, you’re likely in bed, at a desk, on public transport or scrolling. The majority of images on BeReal involve a laptop screen and a thumbs up. Thrilling stuff. Most of the time when users are doing something fun, they’re too busy actually being real to notice the BeReal countdown.

But, wait! If a users miss their two-minute window, they are given the option to ‘post late’ - which most people do in order to see everyone else’s pics (which are hidden until you post). But this also allows for curation. For example, if I get notified to post whilst I’m watching telly in grubby pyjamas but I know that later I’ll be dressed to the nines on my way to an event, obviously, I’m choosing the option to ‘post late’ and defeating the point of the app altogether. My bedbound, covid-ridden housemate hasn’t posted anything to BeReal in days; too concerned about boring us all with the same photos of her longingly staring out a window.

Users react to posts with selfies (BeReal)
Users react to posts with selfies (BeReal)

Unlike Twitter and Instagram, BeReal is based on friends rather than followers - like Facebook, you add the people whose content you want to see and who you want to share your posts with.  For me, with less than 10 friends who have it, it acts similarly to Instagram’s ‘close friends’ story option. The desire to impress doesn’t exist on BeReal as it does with other platforms; you’re not engaging with potential employers, trying to grow a follower base, or hoping someone will slide into your DMs… unless of course you add someone you fancy, in which case posting late becomes far more frequent (and staged).

In another attempt by the app to mimic reality, the only way of interacting with others is by sharing your real life reaction - take a photo of your face in response to a post and it shows up as a ‘like’ would on other platforms. This gives way for much more interesting digital responses, whether it be someone actually winking at my selfie, sending a cheesy grin or even a middle finger. Just as in real life, you can never predict how a person will react.

BeReal aims to be authentic and capture the banality of life (Jessica Fortune)
BeReal aims to be authentic and capture the banality of life (Jessica Fortune)

The issue with BeReal is that when it is used in a truly honest way, it’s usually documenting something incredibly dull. But perhaps that’s the beauty of it as well. I’d much prefer to see photos of my mates on the loo than another influencer’s OOTD. Oh, you’re in bed? Great, me too, and now I feel way less guilty about it. Maybe, just maybe, there is room for some banality in a digital world brimming with bug-eyed selfies, avocado close-ups and holiday dumps from a trip that actually happened three months ago. For now, people are into it - all 7.5 million of them - but whether we get bored of the boredom, only time will tell.

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