Well well well.and, wouldn’t you know, a little upstart called BeReal took home the coveted title of iPhone App of the Year. The award comes after a spring and summer of steady growth for the social media app, which has become a Gen Z favorite. Even SNL went insane this fall, faking the daily “Time to BeReal” pings and calling it “the only honest social media outlet” in its season 48 premiere.
Having never encountered an appeal to authenticity that I didn’t want to dispute, I knew I had to try the app for myself. And it turns out it’s actually kind of…fun? I don’t own an iPhone, but I have to agree with Apple – BeReal is a winner.
So what exactly is it? The app bills itself as “anti-Instagram.” It takes the basic concept of the “gram” — an endless-scrolling feed of your friends’ slice-of-life photos — and turns it into something more playful and (somewhat) less fake. Since its peak this summer, BeReal has been copied by the likestik tok and how.
Here’s how it works: Every day, at a random and unpredictable time (on the SNL sket, in the middle of a bank heist), the BeReal app sends you and everyone else in the app a push notification: It’s “Time to BeReal. ” You then have two minutes to take a photo with the front and rear cameras at the same time and post it to the feed.
If you don’t post anything, you won’t be able to see your friends’ posts either. If you post too late or repeat the recording multiple times to get the right angle, the app will betray you to your friends (“So everyone will know your BeReal wasn’t real!” the hostages explain). When the notification arrives for the next day, all previous photos will disappear.
The gamification stems from BeReal’s reluctance to only post once a day; The authenticity comes from the fact that you can’t choose where or when you post, and you can’t use a filter to smooth your skin or correct the color of your avocado toast or whatever.
It actually sounded very much like itto me: A two minute break from your day to do a fun little task on your phone before heading back to the grind or doomscroll or most likely one of your other social media apps. And crucially, like Wordle, BeReal can only be “ready” 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 felt the app would be more of a fun group activity than a true social feed, I still swap Wordle (or Wordle) sometimes for the same reason, or ) results via text but can’t understand why anyone is still tweeting them.
Not being a member of Gen Z myself, I knew it would be difficult to convince enough friends to join me. My invites had a success rate of about 50%. A friend did not go beyond the usual. Another friend: “This feels like a trap.” My own spouse made me read.
Those friends who took the bait started posting wildly, often photos of their laptops or cats or protein powder. Most of the time, my own BeReal front camera photos were unflattering images of my tired, grumpy face, while my rear camera caught my son smearing ketchup around his high chair tray. I once posted the same view from my balcony that a guest had posted on Instagram (and bloody well filtered out of) at dinner the night before. Hers definitely looked better.
You cannot technically win BeReal, but I soon understood the special satisfaction of achieving the trifecta: capturing an interesting tableau, snapping a flattering selfie, and posting it all on time. It also takes a bit of luck if you happen to be somewhere cool when it’s time to be real, rather than on the couch or, as one of my friends feared, in the toilet.
“I hope I get the notification in my exciting moments and not when I’m pooping,” he wrote to me one day. The daily anticipation of when it would arrive, he added, is “like a jack in the box.”
I “lost” BeReal several times: when the notification arrived, after going to bed, I presented during oneor drove on the freeway. But I total won on the day the two-minute window with the “ ‘ and I got a snap of my Kentucky Derby Fascinator and Rich Strike crossing the finish line on TV.
How real is BeReal really?
Of my BeReal friends, 100% deleted the app after this article was published. They all didn’t fault the app’s flimsy claims of authenticity, but rather its demands on their time.
“Getting the notification, especially during the workday or at night when I don’t usually take photos or post anything, was a bit stressful,” said a friend.
“This app underscores that ideally I want to be in control of social media and not the other way around,” another friend told me.
“I felt a bit guilty for not posting every day,” admitted a third.
If Wordle tried to dictate when each day we solved the riddle, would the masses have objected by now? (Look what happened.)
But I’m personally more interested in the “real” than in the “being”.
The mood on BeReal is actually more nostalgic than authentic. More early Instagram than anti-Instagram. My favorite part of BeReal was being allowed—nay, required—to post silly selfies and capitulate to the youthful self-centredism that still lurks beneath my now-over-orchestrated grid. People don’t give a shit what I had for lunch, but I fucking want them to know! One of my first Insta posts was just a photo of some Fingerhands finger puppets that I found at a joke shop and found funny, and I fail post things like that.
There seems to be no appetite for the garbage of everyday life on Instagram. Instead of posting the places we visit on Instagram, we now only visit Instagrammable Places. While Instagram has been taken over by influencers and “creators” who post reels and memes, BeReal is taking a different tack, according to its App Store listing: “If you want to become an influencer, you can stay on TikTok and Instagram.”
On the other hand, casual posting and photo dumps are enjoying some popularity as the pendulum swings in favor of a rawer aesthetic. And a lot of the memes clogging up my Insta feed are from the behind-the-scenes Instagram vs. Reality persuasion. Plus, perhaps the impermanence and informality ofsomehow satisfies this desire for the “real”.
Seen in this way, BeReal looks more like a gimmick than a harbinger of the social media upheaval. But that would be a shame because while no one on this page of 30 would agree with me, I kind of love it! And I’m glad Apple is doing the same. Maybe it will reach critical mass and my friends will all download it again. Or like Snapchat or TikTok, maybe it will be subsumed at some point oras an optional feature.
ormaybe it’s nothing more than a digital oddity that we’ll someday describe as “fun while it lasted”.