Ambitious start-ups are always hoping to shake up the social media monopoly. Few ever nip at the toes of the mighty Instagram, but online rumblings suggest that BeReal could be the next photo app disruptor. Ranking, as of this writing, as the second most popular iPhone app in the UK and sixth in the US, BeReal encourages more authentic photos of everyday life, as opposed to the perfectly curated, overly filtered content that has become the social media gold standard. It is for this reason that it is being branded “the anti-Instagram” app.
So how does it work? Once a day at a random time, BeReal sends a push notification to your phone instructing you to take a photo. You are given (a panic-inducing) two minutes to do it (you can post your picture later, but it is then labelled with a somewhat shaming note of just how late you were…). The app uses both your phone’s front and back cameras, capturing your face and your point of view (you can retake it but I think that ruins the point). You can choose to share the photo only with friends on the app or to put it out into the world: the “discover” section allows you to take a sneak peek into the POVs of strangers around the globe. You can send and receive “RealMojis”, like Instagram’s story reactions, in response to pictures. And there is a Memory function, allowing you to look back on your snapshots over time. The app brands itself as “a new and unique way to discover who your friends really are in their daily life”.
Scrolling through the Discover tab, the photos are remarkable in their mundanity. Blurry faces (because of the two-camera snap, your phone screen only shows the back camera view, meaning that ugly selfies are inevitable), views of pavements, people queuing, TV and laptop screens, and—most common of all—people in bed, dominate my feed. It is not pretty. Even the classic “taking a photo of my lunch” image comes out not-so-cute when you are doing it under time pressure and you can’t add a fitting filter. But, wow, is it refreshing to not see airbrushed faces staring back from the screen. It’s almost like reassurance that your mostly boring life is OK—in fact, it’s completely normal.
This got me thinking: could this be an art world tonic? My friends and family always think that the life of an editor at The Art Newspaper must be so glamorous, with non-stop exhibition openings, fancy lunches, free champagne, and press trips that they describe as “holidays”. If only they could see the 5am writing marathons, the constant trips to Pret, the overcrowded Ryanair flights, or the state of the toilets at an art fair. And now they can. So, I’m inviting you all to come and join me over here on BeReal—let’s make the art world ugly! Let’s make it a bit more real.