Jasmine Hearn with permission for Varsity

When my childhood friend first informed our group chat that we needed to download a new app, it was February. She sold BeReal as a way for us to see into each other’s lives, which landed well. As a group, we are scattered across the continent, and four-way video calls are hard to come by these days. The concept is simple: at a random point each day, users are notified that ‘it’s time to be real’, and you have two minutes to document the view from both your cameras simultaneously, whether it’s faffing about in the library or weeping into your fajitas.

Since then, I’ve watched my feed show snapshots of home friends reuniting, glimpses into uni friends’ childhood bedrooms, and the flora of Cambridge bursting into bloom as weeks have passed. BeReal has taken off this year, and it’s not hard to see why. In a world where social media is a highlight reel, BeReal promotes transparency and authenticity. The app’s tones are muted; you’re navigating a simple monochrome feed, without any of the flashy design or unique features of other apps. You won’t find the kaleidoscope of colour and glamour we love to hate on Instagram, the clickbait of YouTube, or the whimsical intrigue of TikTok. The interactive RealMojis have a personal touch that isn’t found in regular ‘likes’ — rather than a typical heart or thumbs-up, you react with a photo of your own facial expression. You can’t use filters, and your feed is wiped daily, meaning that your friends’ previous BeReals disappear, and all likes and comments are erased: the only moment that counts is now.

“The only moment that counts is now”

Yet for some, BeReal has become another platform for performance. The buzzword of authenticity has made its way to Instagram with the casual photo dumping trend, and it’s weaponised on BeReal too. It’s easy to wait until you’re feeling your best before you post, and to hope for the BeReal when you want to show off something interesting. You can imagine my glee when the notification came through when I was at Masked Singer Live on Tour. What’s more, Rob Horn says that BeReal’s capacity for performance is its shortcoming. It may attempt to provide an answer to the falsification running rife in other apps, but it still leaves room to contribute to glamourisation: ‘only voyeurism sets us free’. But is such a draconian measure the only way to re-claim a sense of authenticity? It feels good to be real. As digital natives who probably spent most of secondary school agonising over captions and periodically wiping our profiles, an isolated daily snapshot is equalising and refreshing. The issues with social media might feel like an overcooked GCSE French topic of conversation, but even as twenty-somethings we feel the paranoia of everyone having more fun than you, which BeReal seeks to remedy.


Mountain View

Orange Give up the ghosting

On the other side of the spectrum, some users practise proper precision about uploading on time, and police others to do so too. But to this I say — who among us has never enjoyed a blissful couple of hours away from their phone, and so what if you miss the notification in doing so? What is more Real — to cling to your phone at every minute, poised to swipe up when the notification comes through, and parade an unbroken streak of perfect BeReals? Or to check your phone whenever the mood strikes you, and capturing a mundane moment nonetheless? To this I say: it’s simply not that deep.

For those who embrace the expressive element of social media, there is something quite depressing about BeReal. A friend who uses Instagram candidly and creatively captioned his second and final BeReal, ‘This app so boring gonna delete rn’, and seeing eleven photos of pasta being cooked in uni kitchens does get old quickly. But somehow, everyone’s posts are quietly themselves: my friends’ individual essences are somehow visible in their posts, whether it’s a certain colour palette, pose, or pastime.

“Somehow, everyone’s posts are quietly themselves”

BeReal’s personal archive feature compiles an album of moments in a typical day, spanning months. It provides perspective to this hot, heavy Cambridge lifestyle where every day feels like the most important project ever, and we live hour-to-hour, trying to cram success into every minute. With BeReal, we can see that time will pass, and memories will be made regardless. BeReal’s power lies in how boring it is. You can’t spend hours scrolling or stalking, because you can only view people’s posts from that day, meaning you do eventually reach the end of your feed. The best way to Be Real, it seems, is not to take it seriously: BeReal empowers you to overcome the fear of being perceived, which is refreshing in a place like this.