That social media platforms became increasingly inauthentic once individual and corporate brand-building and monetisation became driving factors behind them is something that most users know. That resisting these platforms is also difficult, for a wide gamut of reasons both professional and personal, is another thing that most users know. When we think of social media, we generally imagine the top three – Facebook, Instagram and Twitter – and indeed they do frequently prove the above accusations true. There are others, and BeReal – a France-based app that was released in 2020 and has recently become popular in other places – is one among them. It is supposed to be the “anti-Instagram”. It may have been influenced by an app called Minutiae, which was launched in 2017 (this platform’s founder certainly alleges the same).
BeReal’s premise is that every day, at a different time but simultaneously for all users, a notification pops up – it’s time to post. Users have a two-minute window within which they must post two images, one using the selfie camera and one using the back camera. The idea is to show slices of the ordinary, without preparation, explanation or curation.
Perhaps apps like BeReal and Minutiae allow one to mull the details of one’s own life, but there’s the question of why anyone else needs to be virtually invited into those details. What value do these glimpses provide that distinguishes them from the judgment or coveting that other, more deliberated, glimpses create? Minutiae’s branding talks about how the mundane may be extraordinary in the future, i.e. historical significance. Fair enough: floppy disks and CDs that were commonplace two decades ago are vintage and even unrecognisable to children today. But the idea then would be that one generates an archive, rather than live in the moment – a problem shared by most if not all social media platforms.
A vast and growing number of users disagree, of course. As with all such platforms, novelty, boredom, voyeurism, curiosity, enjoyment and other factors have drawn many in, and amongst these collective factors will be myriad personal variables about what is derived from one’s participation.
That so much of the content we consume and produce is not a reflection of our real selves doesn’t have to mean that our actual lives need to be processed or documented or released for consumption – at least not in immediate ways. There is something to be said for percolation and the way it helps to create tangible and intangible things of lasting value. That said, if broadcasting visuals of an arbitrary moment each day assists someone’s personal growth in some way, a way that’s different from what all other platforms provide, more power to that.
But I’m not wired like that, and I know it. This is not a review of BeReal because I’m almost definitely never going to download it or anything like it. I don’t think I’m missing out because on-demand pause-and-performance isn’t mindfulness, and viewing others doing the same isn’t connection. Real life may not always happen off social media, but it is always richer, more complex and more interesting than either a snapshot or a snap judgment of one can be.
An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express in May 2022. “The Venus Flytrap” appears in Chennai’s City Express supplement.