When I first heard about a new social media app called be realI knew I had to try.
The app bills itself as the “anti-Instagram.” It takes the basic concept of the ‘gram – an endlessly scrolling feed of your friends’ snapped photos – and reworks it into something more gamified and (slightly) less fake. It has become extremely popular recently.
Here’s how it works: Every day, at a random and unpredictable moment, the BeReal app sends you and everyone else in the app a push notification: It’s time to be real. You then have two minutes to take a picture with both your front and back cameras and post it to the feed. If you don’t post, you can’t see your friends’ posts either. If you post late (or repeat the photo a few times to get the angle right), the app will attack you in front of your friends. When the notification comes the next day, everyone’s previous photos are gone.
Gamification comes from BeReal’s once-a-day posting limits; authenticity comes from the fact that you can’t choose where or when to post, and you can’t use a filter to smooth your skin or adjust the color of your avocado toast or whatever.
It actually sounded very similar Wordle for me: A two-minute break from your day to complete a fun little task on your phone before going back to the grind or doomscroll or, most likely, one of your other social media apps. And most importantly, like Wordle, BeReal can only be “done” once a day.
What it’s like to use BeReal
I started recruiting by putting out feelers in a few of my existing group chats. I had a hunch the app would be more of a fun group activity than a real social feed, for the same reason I still occasionally exchange Wordle (or Worldle, Hurdleor Antiword) results on text, but I can’t understand why anyone is still tweeting them.
Not being a Gen Z myself, I knew it would be difficult to convince enough friends to join me. My invitations had about a 50% success rate. A friend could not pass the usual AI training paranoia surrounding new photo-sharing apps. Another friend: “I feel like a trap.” My own husband left me to read.
Friends who took the bait began posting playfully, often pictures of their laptops or cats or protein powder. More often than not, my BeReal’s front camera photos were unflattering of my tired, sullen face, while my rear camera captured my son smearing ketchup on his high chair tray. I once posted the same view from my balcony that a dinner guest posted on Instagram (and filtered the hell out of it). Hers definitely looked better.
Technically you can’t win BeReal as you can Wordle, but I soon realized the special satisfaction of achieving the trifecta: capturing an interesting picture, taking a flattering selfie, and posting it all in time. There’s also an element of luck if you end up somewhere cool when it’s time to be real and not on your couch or, as a friend of mine feared, on the toilet.
“Hopefully I get the notification during my highs and not when I’m shitting,” he texted me one day. The daily anticipation of when it will arrive, he added, is “like Jack in the box.”
I “lost” BeReal a few times: when the notification arrived after I went to bed, it was a presentation during the Zoom meeting with camera on or drove on the highway. But I completely won on the day the two-minute window coincided with “the best two minutes in sports,” and I got my Kentucky Derby charm clicked and A rich hit crossing the finish line on television.
Read more: After today’s Wordle, try these 21 other puzzle games
How real is BeReal really?
Of my BeReal friends, 100% have plans to delete the app after this article is published. They all resisted, not the app’s false claims of authenticity, but its demands on their time.
“Getting the alert, especially on a weekday or at night when I don’t usually take pictures or post anything, was a bit stressful,” said one friend.
“This app highlights that ideally I want control over social media, not the other way around,” another friend told me.
“I felt a little guilty if I didn’t post every day,” admitted a third.
If Wordle tried to dictate what time we all solve the puzzle every day, would the masses have turned it on by now? (See what happened to HQ trivia.)
But I’m personally more interested in the Real Ones than the Buddies.
The atmosphere of BeReal is actually more nostalgic than authentic. More early Instagram than anti-Instagram. My favorite part of BeReal was the permission—no, obligation—to post goofy selfies and capitulate to the adolescent self-centeredness that still lurked beneath my already over-orchestrated web. People don’t care what I had for lunch, but I want them to know, dammit! One of my first Insta posts was just a picture of some Finger Hands puppets that I found in a joke shop and thought were funny, and I miss posting such things.
Instagram seems to no longer have an appetite for the detritus of the everyday. Instead of Instagramming the places we visit, we now just visit places that can be used on Instagram. While Instagram has been taken over by influencers and “creators” posting reels and memes, BeReal is taking a different approach, as its app store listing states: “If you want to be an influencer, you can stay on TikTok and Instagram.”
then again “accidental posting” and photo dumping are enjoying some popularity as the pendulum swings in favor of more austere aesthetics. And many of the memes clogging up my Insta feed are of the backstage, “Instagram vs. reality” persuasion. Also, perhaps the ephemerality and informality of Stories already somewhat satiates this desire for the “real”.
When you think about it that way, BeReal is more of a gimmick than a harbinger of change in social media. And that’s a shame, because even if no one this side of 30 agrees with me, I quite like it! Like Snapchat or TikTok, perhaps it will eventually be included or replicated in Instagram itself as an optional feature.
Or like Wordleperhaps it’s nothing more than a digital curiosity that we’ll one day describe as “fun while it lasted.”