The app that promotes aggressive normalcy.
Lucas Gelfond on the anti-Instagram.
As the internet seems to constrict under the grasp of a few large, all-encompassing platforms, I’ve found myself gravitating toward the ones that truly commit to their niche. Some are familiarly targeted at enthusiasts—Letterboxd for film, last.fm for music, GoodReads for books—but others take a more absurd approach, like Poop Map (for, yes, socially logging, rating, and geotagging your poops) or, my most recent favorite, BeReal.
The app’s premise is simple: Each day, every user worldwide gets a simultaneous, cartoonish notification, “⚠️ Time to BeReal ⚠️ 2 min left to capture a BeReal and see what your friends are up to!” Opening the app prompts you to snap a photo, which captures your front and back camera (no access to the camera roll) and posts to a simple chronological feed of friends’ posts which you cannot view until you’ve added a photo yourself.
There’s a delightful way in which this forces an authenticity, structuring itself against the more manicured “highlights” of other platforms. Certainly, one can wait for an interesting moment that is outside of this two minute window, but these attempts are naked because each post is timestamped to the second; I found myself repulsed by an acquaintance's mid-party BeReal nearly 10 hours later, a flagrant violation of the app’s implicit social contract.
This setup breeds a certain intimacy or familiarity I haven’t found anywhere else on the internet. Sometimes when the prompt strikes, I’ll look through the app’s “Discovery” tab, a realtime feed of every BeReal posted, all strangers, mostly doing, aggressively normal things; a sampling yields three people under striped umbrellas in Sedona, Arizona, a monitor with Microsoft Word window next to a graph-ruled notebook in Ibarra, Ecuador, and near-empty Schweppes on a card table in Carquefou, France.
I occasionally feel a latent anxiety about when the prompt will strike, considering what might be the best (or worst) parts of my day to BeReal. This is certainly the wrong approach. BeReal is special for its ability to capture mundanity and routine, to get thousands of people to snap photos of themselves watching Netflix, brushing their teeth, or answering email; it’s refreshing to realize most people’s lives are, most of the time, also very very boring. — Lucas Gelfond