Where television might’ve been a huge net to catch consumers, social media is an exacting sieve. As corporations have targeted us through personalised advertisements on Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat throughout the years, we’ve similarly started to market ourselves to our friends, family, and followers — as interesting, mysterious, funny, beautiful, whatever we feel we should appear as. Aesthetic worship, social media marketing and our culture’s reliance on technology have slowly replaced self-expression with self-obsession. However, consumers have been craving originality and creators are building new platforms to appease them. The app BeReal is spreading like wildfire among students because of its refreshingly real marketing ploy, which risks a descent into an easily worn-out novelty once you uncover what it really is: a desperate reach for authenticity catered to a generation that doesn’t know what real is anymore.
While I belong to Generation Z and regularly use many of these apps, I simply can’t get behind BeReal. Social media isn’t real, and it never will be. Although I argue this point ad nauseum with my friends, they won’t budge. During a recent discussion about BeReal, one of them noted that: “It’s just more authentic as an app. Look at TikTok and how fake and damaging it is.” She is right to acknowledge TikTok’s drawbacks — it not only takes time and attention away from students’ studies, but can make us feel deeply insecure about features we cannot change. Nobody I know has lost more time to the app’s wide range of algorithmic entertainment than students. Anytime you’re bored between classes, papers and important assignments — TikTok fills the gaps. It’s perfect, clean escapism. Escapism which BeReal cannot offer. By keeping it to a two minute picture-taking time allotment and a no-editing policy, BeReal minimises the pitfalls that Tiktok so eagerly promotes.
While BeReal saves us a lot of precious time, this lack of attention pull is limiting the app’s success. It’s a risk the app’s creators seem willing to take: high authenticity paired with minimal usage to replace fakeness and addictive usage. However, it is not without reason that the other apps are so addictive. They play on the engagement with the human ego, the biggest player in social interactions — especially virtual ones.
“Social media will never be real. That’s part of why it’s entertaining, and a huge part of why it’s so successful.”
BeReal both succeeds and fails at boosting the ego. On the one hand, saying that you use BeReal because it’s real is another way of saying that you want to be authentic. You are above social media’s general fakeness by using an app whose social stratagem is to not allow any virtual editing. On the other hand, the lack of possible adjustments risks leaving the ego unfulfilled. In my opinion, this would be the most likely cause for the app’s eventual lack of popularity. TikTok and Instagram are more appealing due to the fact their content can be carefully filtered, edited and adjusted. BeReal touts the fact that it is filterless, but when one has such limited control of the viewer’s experience of what you post — the experience is less satisfying, sometimes even anxiety-inducing. While I admire BeReal’s creators for marketing against the norm, we’re all aware that social media isn’t real. More importantly, we don’t want it to be real. It would ruin the fun. Social media as we’ve known it is a distraction from reality, offering us moments of peace that don’t resemble our everyday. I repeat: social media will never be real. That’s part of why it’s entertaining, and a huge part of why it’s so successful.
BeReal is no doubt an interesting new player in the field, but to assess the durability of its popularity among students, we should have a full look at what the app offers us. Taking into consideration what media philosopher Marshall McLuhan once posited: If the medium is the message, then how does BeReal communicate to us? The app’s structure inherently connotes distance between you and your friends. With the app’s largest feature being two daily pictures, unedited and based wholly on a person’s randomly timed daily trajectory, the only truly social aspect is adding comments and reacting to BeReals. Isn’t texting your friend even briefly more worthwhile than exchanging these randomly taken pictures? Maybe it’s fun enough to hold a tiny shred of someone’s day-in-the-life moment, both unedited and unplanned — after all, it’s fun to exchange our everyday lives. Yet what you share on BeReal is not as significant as the other content that other apps allow us to share, even if none of it is real.
While BeReal’s endeavour is insipid at worst and hopeful at best, it’s managed to repackage another natural human experience—sharing generally mundane moments together—into a watered-down version of itself. Post-pandemic, despite returning to campus, are we possibly longing to share even the most insignificant of moments with one another? Perhaps. Did social media need a way to distribute our humdrum activities to all our friends in an explicit and shameless form? Probably yes. As students, we like to stand in the limelight. We are evolving constantly, developing our characters and trying to identify ourselves. Whether consciously or unconsciously, we seek platforms that allow us to explore and keep track of our own journey and that of others. We are looking for distraction and inspiration.
“Social media is most consumable when it validates us, humours us, or allows us to escape.”
I can understand why BeReal is huge right now, but I doubt it can last. Social media is most consumable when it validates us, humours us, or allows us to escape. Even the toxicity of TikTok, with filters that show you how yellow your teeth are, or how asymmetrical your face is, it all shines a light on you. What’s wrong with you, how you can measure up, or why you’re above the standard. Whether it elicits bad or good emotions, self-focus can be wholly addictive. Especially for youth like ourselves, you is the most interesting, entertaining, and largely unknown topic there is. I say this to reiterate the point that the human ego must be fed, and BeReal cannot sufficiently feed it. While it can satiate our need to be seen authentically, that’s only one of the ego’s numerous and inherent desires.
BeReal’s one-trick-pony ability is insufficient to fully consume our attention; it will begin to fade from this social media zeitgeist in due course. While it’s fun in the moment, it’s an ironically small shred of authenticity that’ll be washed away in the seas of content that TikTok and Instagram generate daily. BeReal may seem original and fun to us now, but let’s be honest; aren’t Instagram and Snapchat stories painting a prettier, more elaborate picture? The only way to be real is to get off our phones, and until we understand that, we’ll be seeing our life through these shreds only.