BeReal and the non-stop urge to contentify our lives
The social app might position itself as the anti-Instagram, but it’s really just another avenue for us to pretend our lives are a highlight reel. Do we need the added (two minutes of) pressure?
My first BeReal task pops up as I’m walking down the road towards THE FACE office. I have two minutes to take a picture. I don’t realise the app takes a selfie at the same time it takes the main photo, so my face appears half off the screen, looking like a thumb. But it’s OK – I am being real.
The next day, the notification comes – miraculously – when I’m at a Beyoncé album launch party, so I get to pretend that partying with ex-Love Island cast members at The Box in Soho is a normal part of my reality. The following day, I’m mopping the floor at home when the alert lights up my screen. Way more real, to be honest.
The social app, which launched in 2019 and has recently shot to the top of the Apple charts, has been billed as the antithesis of Instagram, an antidote to the ultra-curated, slick shots we see on rotation in people’s photo dumps. Rather than see a highlight reel of someone’s trip to Santorini – they had a private pool! – BeReal is a filter-free window into your mates’ (sometimes shit) reality. An unappealing sandwich at your desk. A watery-looking, half-drunk pint. A day spent hungover in bed.
The appeal of this algorithm-free, ad-free social world comes at a time when our formerly most-beloved photo sharing app is seemingly morphing into TikTok (although Instagram has now backtracked on plans to integrate a full-screen feed, partly – it seems – thanks to Kim K and Kylie Jenner, who urged the company to “make Instagram Instagram again”).
While we’re all often hostile to change in general, there’s been a growing discontent with the app for a while, as users have gotten bombarded with ads with alarming frequency. “BeReal isn’t the ‘anti-Instagram’ because it encourages people to be authentic,” BuzzFeed reporter Kelsey Weekman tweeted. “It is the ‘anti-Instagram’ because you can actually find pics of your friends on there.” Your friends, for real – as the app’s tagline goes.
But is BeReal actually a more realistic view of our friends’ lives than good old IG? There’s an argument for that, sure – although the app does allow you to post late. Meaning that if you know you’re going to be at a party or doing something more interesting than housework or a trip to the Post Office, you can save up your daily snap until then. Meaning it’s not quite the candid, unfiltered view that it promises. BeReal… ish.
In reality, though, it speaks to an increased pressure to make content out of every facet of our lives. Where Instagram allowed us to sit back and wait to post one highlight from a recent festival outing, for example, BeReal means we’re always wondering: can I make content out of this part of my day? And that relentlessly quotidian hassle is already causing unease.
“BeReal gives me such bad anxiety because it’s just another short deadline I know I’ll miss,” one user writes on Twitter. “Sorry I think BeReal is far too much pressure,” another says. “BeReal is reminding me that I have [to] look good 23/24 hours of the day because idk when they’re gonna choose me as their target,” echoes another.
From actual life milestones – new job, house, baby – there’s a continual pressure to channel our lives into content. And in doing so, while we might not like to think of it in this way, we’re all really crafting a personal brand. BeReal seems to be saying: it’s the minutiae of life that matters, too. We can all be main characters, every day.
What exactly drives this urge to contentify our lives is hard to identify, but it mainly points to capitalism and the monetisation of the internet. People go viral and opportunities are handed out as a result. Our bodies and selves are increasingly seen as things to market and, once we’ve built up a platform, there’s power that comes with that.
This is an idea, by the way, that long predates social media. As Guy Debord wrote in 1967’s The Society of the Spectacle: “In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has moved away into representation.”
The very current incarnation of that notion, tried and tested over a half-century-plus, then hyper-accelerated in the digital age, is the (slightly dystopian and depressing) way that marketing speak has latterly been incorporated into the way we talk about life online.
“~soft launching~ and ~revealing~ your partner is hilarious. [But] using corporate, marketing lingo to talk about posting a person you’re in public with makes no sense,” points out writer Najma Sharif. She’s referring to the slow rollout of a partner on social media: a strategically-placed hand in shot at dinner, rather than a “this is me and my new boyfriend!” post.
BeReal, with its everyday, this-is-how-I-roll mechanism, only adds to this ostensibly more relaxed approach to posting. But, in actual fact, it’s only trapping us in an endless, 24-hour cycle – one in which every user knows that everyone else is carefully curating their casualness. If the app really wanted us to be real, it wouldn’t let us post late. Instead, it’s just another opportunity for people to flex the portion of their day they want people to see. If you were at the ABBA concert but the notification didn’t come up, too bad. Let’s see your post-show McDonald’s order instead – if you dare.