My phone pinged. The notification tone was new and designed to demand my attention. "Time To BeReal,” it read. “2 min left to capture a BeReal and see what your friends are up to!’”
The countdown had begun. I opened the app. My phone’s back camera was instantly activated. A small timer started ticking. I was left with no choice but to quickly snap what was in front of me: my laptop screen. But that wasn’t it. Before I could sigh in relief, my phone’s front camera was activated. I jumped out of the frame just in time to avoid an unplanned selfie — I wasn’t feeling cute — and ended up with a hazy photo of my shoulder and my room’s ceiling fan.
That was it. My first post on BeReal. Founded in 2020, BeReal is an app that persuades users to show their ‘real selves’. But it is only just shooting up in popularity this year, with downloads growing by at least 315% according to data from Apptopia (as of April, 2022).
The sudden spike possibly speaks to a larger frustration with the heavily edited and filtered versions of people we connect with, when deciding to follow or friend someone online. Especially since we have had to do this, without choice, over two years, through various covid-lockdowns.
For many users therefore, the app, founded by Kévin Perreau and Alexis Barreyat, is providing “a new and unique way to discover who your friends really are in their daily life.”
All of BeReal’s estimated 2.5 million daily active users, get a push notification at one random time everyday, prompting them to show a photo, at that particular moment, of what they see (through the back camera), and of themselves (through the front). You can choose to skip this time-bound nudge to post, but your followers will get notified of how this wasn’t done in the moment.
To add to this, there are no filters here either. You can’t edit the photo you take, upload an old one from your gallery, use stickers, or pad-up your photo with poetic captions to make your life seem more meaningful than it is. You can re-take a photo for a better angle, but your friends will be notified of this, too — it’s almost as if BeReal is designed to shame you into being authentic.
I’m not an advocate of heavily edited photos, but as a social media user, I like to curate how my friends, family, and followers connect with me. But perhaps that is millennial-speak? For Gen Zs, many of whom have never had life without the internet, and don’t see it as a space for just a ‘public face’, this seems to be working well as a way to show themselves as they are.
A Delhi-based 22-year-old user, hm_2000, told me that they found BeReal via a Twitter thread that spoke about a game-changing social media app that won’t make you famous. Another user, Yamme_S, who has been on the app for over three months now likes the fact that there is no way to slip into the need for validation here: “Forget hashtags, or wondering how to get a post with the most likes, I’m getting to capture and share weird, hilarious, moments of my life with my friends in a judgement-free zone.”
I ended up having to post pictures of a messy work desk, mugs of leftover coffee, Pune’s grey and dreary skies, and my feet in a pair of ratty, old slippers that I have held on for a few years longer than I should have. It was essentially a pictorial log that showed my life as rather mundane. When I looked back at it, I wasn’t able to see myself as the Richa who is writing exciting articles and getting published, or being surrounded by fun friends, or on picturesque holidays with my husband.
As an observer scrolling through, it has been refreshing and a relief, to have a space at my fingertips, through which I’m not constantly just a little bit jealous of other people’s lives (Instagram, anyone?) and feeling just a little bit inadequate in my own (been on LinkedIn, lately?). It is comforting to see photos of others out there with messy desks, or tucked in bed in the middle of an afternoon or just eating cereal alone for dinner.
At the same time though, it is undeniably disconcerting to present an unfiltered, non-curated version of myself to others. However, as we continue into a life that is increasingly being led on the internet, this is perhaps a step towards reflecting on who I am versus who I become while making connections online.
Richa Sheth is a freelance writer based in Pune. She explores complexities within human interactions and relationships.