Is BeReal as real as it wants to be?

staff notes

Confession: I never post my first BeReal. 

For the uninitiated, BeReal is a social media app that claims to unlock the secrets of “who your friends really are in their daily life”. At a random time each day, every user is given a two-minute deadline to capture and post a daily BeReal – a set of two photos, taken simultaneously by your phone’s front and back cameras, of whatever you happen to be doing at the moment. Then you’re afforded the privilege of scrolling through your friends’ BeReals: blurry snapshots of dorm walls, Ginger and Soy to-go dinners, class lecture slides. There are no likes, only comments and “RealMojis,”selfies that appear as tiny icons below your friends’ photos. 

There are parameters to encourage authenticity: while you can technically retake your BeReal, you’re disincentivized from doing so. Your total number of picture-taking attempts each day is displayed for all to see, a scarlet letter of fakeness on an app whose very reason for existing is authenticity. 

But that has never deterred me. I always find something to hate about my first BeReal attempt – the angle of the light hitting my face, the dark circles under my eyes making themselves known, the centerpiece of my shot ending up slightly out of frame. And so, day after day, I hit that retake button, carefully flipping back and forth between my cameras to ensure the perfect picture, manicuring my self-image. 

But does it even matter? Who cares enough about my day-to-day life that they’re going to go out of their way and click the button to look at my retake count? Creeps and stalkers, that’s who. I never bother to, so I don’t see why anyone else would. 

Curiosity got the better of me a few days ago, though, and I finally checked how often my friends were retaking their posts. I was surprised by the answer: a whole lot, apparently. I’d assumed that I was the odd one out with all my photo-taking attempts – but many of the BeReals on my dashboard had been retaken three, four, even five times before uploading. As I’d been curating the life story my BeReals presented to the rest of the world, the rest of the world had been curating the life stories it presented back to me. 

I began to wonder: is BeReal as real as it claims to be? And if not, can it survive in the long term? 

It’s undeniable that BeReal presents a less edited summary of your peers’ lives than you’d get from, say, Instagram or Twitter. When you’ve spent so long steeped in Duke’s “work hard, play hard culture” and assumptions that you’re the only one perpetually scrambling to stay afloat, it’s a relief to see sorority girls and frat guys spending a late Tuesday night cramming in Perkins, that friend group whose Instagram stories consist solely of expensive dinners downtown chowing down on mediocre Marketplace pizza like the rest of us. And, for better or for worse, you feel less guilty about sleeping in until 1 p.m. when you open BeReal and are greeted with five identical photos of bedhead peeking out of blankets. 

But less edited doesn’t mean unedited. Because of BeReal’s “late” feature (you’re allowed to take your daily BeReal outside the given two-minute window, with the only punishment being a “late” warning that floats above your photoset), you’re able to pass off the highlight of your day as something mundane that happens to you on a regular basis; if you’re not doing anything particularly fun or interesting, you can simply avoid posting that day, and no one will be the wiser. Not unlike applying makeup to create the illusion that you aren’t wearing makeup, BeReal can be used to imply that your highlight reel is actually your everyday routine: I always look this good, your BeReal feed says, even when I’m not trying to!

The slow death of high-concept social media apps is a tale as old as time; from Google+ to Ello to Peach, countless social networks have courted users with promises of more intimate and genuine ways to connect online, only to fizzle out and fail to fulfill those lofty aims.What, if anything, implies that the story of BeReal – an “authentic” experience built upon inauthenticity – will have a different ending? 

I have no good answer to that question aside from the fact that I want it to. Maybe BeReal goes down in flames by next semester. Maybe BeReal supplants the social media giants as the Next Big Thing. Either way, I’ll still be here posting blurry shots of my grimy MacBook screen and the skyline from Hudson Hall, hitting my retake button, hoping no one decides to go out of their way and check. –Jules Kourelakos, staff writer


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