Time to BeReal?

Two writers chronicle students’ mixed reactions to social media’s newest fad.

by Connor Allen and Allison Burg | 5/4/22 2:15am

5-3-22-bereal-carolinekramer
by Caroline Kramer / The Dartmouth Senior Staff

The notification appears: it’s time to BeReal. With just one alert, people all over campus — and all over the world — pick up their phones to snap a picture of whatever they are doing at that instant. Designed to capture friends at their “realest” moments, BeReal is a social media app that alerts users at a different time each day to take and share a picture in just two minutes. Subsequently, the app is catered to teenagers who want to break the social media facade of vacation photos, filters and fakeness. 

We, rather embarrassingly, were peer-pressured into downloading BeReal a few weeks ago. Our experiences have been quite dissimilar, to the extent that we couldn’t even agree how to write this article. This is maybe indicative of BeReal as a whole, as it has sparked fiery, controversial debate.

Ally here:

I had my qualms about downloading the app. Although most of my friends used it religiously, I was hesitant to get BeReal, as it felt slightly invasive. Would I have to be camera-ready at all times? What if my hair was a mess? What if there was food in my teeth? 

But, alas, I succumbed and downloaded BeReal. I followed the rules: if I was on my phone at the time of notification, I posted whatever I was doing. I littered my friends’ timeline with pictures of me doing homework, walking to class and sometimes sitting with friends.

I’d like to say that my original worries subsided and I stopped caring about what others thought. In actuality, my fears were amplified, as there is a caveat to BeReal: Users can post late, strategically opening the app when they are with friends or having fun — even if, at the time of notification, they were in bed or crying about their physics test. 

All of a sudden, I was less worried about how I looked in the pictures and much more concerned that I was boring. Seriously, what would my friends — some of whom I haven’t seen in years —  think if I posted for the fifth day sitting alone? Should I close the computer tab with my problem set before I post? On top of that, why are my friends hanging out without me, and how are they having so much fun? 

Soon enough, I found myself purposefully waiting until I was with friends, being productive or in a pretty location to open the app. In the two-minute window, I retook my selfies countless times. I have never thought of myself as an exceptionally insecure person, but scrolling through that app intensified my feelings of self-doubt and individuality. I was reluctant to have people see all aspects of my personal life. Thus, after a few days of “being real,” I deleted the app and haven’t been on it since.

Connor here:

As I sit down to begin writing my section of this reflection, the sound of Monday’s “ding” lures me to BeReal, and I must now post my own BeReal before I can view my friends’. I am a modern iteration of Pavlov’s dog experiment, salivating at the chance to lift up the opaque curtain that taunts me with the vague shapes and colors of my friends’ posts. I sigh, reluctantly snapping my daily picture (almost exclusively of a laptop screen) before at last my friends’ Mondays are revealed before my eyes. The dopamine rush is intense: One friend was attending Zoom class. Another laid in bed. Another — who posted suspiciously late — was seemingly with every other person at this school, or participating in some awesome activity I didn’t even know existed (looking at you, Dartmouth Formula Racing Team — whatever that is). 

I’ve always eyed social media and all its associated inauthenticity with a dubious glare. I only downloaded Instagram in 11th grade and have yet to progress to the next inevitable download: LinkedIn. That will be a gloomy day. But BeReal felt somehow different. I know there is no penalty to posting late, and I know there is nothing stopping anyone from curating the most interesting possible post hours later. Regarding authenticity, BeReal might just be the same as any other app, but what differentiated BeReal for me was the time component. The app’s mechanics only allow me to wade through people’s lives for a few minutes each day. Moreover, for most of the day, there is nothing new to see. When the moment of the ding finally occurs, I just take my post, scroll around for a few seconds and move on. BeReal feels like it was designed maybe not to be really “real,” but at least not to be a huge deal.

I hereby accept that the app is as important or dumb as you want it to be. There is nothing stopping me from expertly assembling a collection of unique, flattering or otherwise positive-attention-drawing images. There is also nothing stopping me from exclusively taking poorly lit closeups of my homework. Hopefully, I’ll be caught sometime when I do something cool. Until then, maybe I’ll just fake them. 

With millions of downloads and a seemingly huge prominence on Dartmouth’s campus — indicated by the frenzy that occurs with a BeReal notification during dinnertime at Foco — we’re clearly not the only ones with opinions about BeReal. Thus, we decided to ask around to hopefully arrive at a consensus. 

Ben Kesselman ’25, who has BeReal and uses it almost daily, thinks that BeReal feels more casual, spontaneous and uncurated than other social media apps.  

“It makes you feel better when half of your friends are sitting in their bed, and you are also sitting in your bed, doing nothing,” Kesselman said.

It should also be noted that the app hasn’t quite fully taken off yet, as many people haven’t yet felt the urge to download it. Out of the 10  or so people we cold-approached at Novack and on the Green to ask to interview, only five actually had the app. Among them was Abbi Fitzpatrick ’22 who, having just quit the app, mostly explained the hype as an underclassmen phenomenon. 

“I think the underclassmen, like the ’24s and ’25s… are really into it, so I’ll be hanging out with them and they’ll be like ‘Oh my gosh, it’s BeReal time’ and we will pause everything we’re doing to do BeReal,” Fitzpatrick said.

Interestingly, most students accepted BeReal as no different than other hyper-curated social media apps, though they themselves didn’t succumb to inauthenticity. 

According to Zack Grunes ’24, “There’s definitely people who don’t post it until they’re doing something cool … I curate it in the sense that I’m not showing people my messy room, but not more than that.”

The app need not just be an exhibition, however. As Robert Boxwell ’25 explained, BeReal might function best as a sort of haphazard digital scrapbook.

“It’s fun to look back and see what you’re doing at 10:17 a.m. on a Sunday,” Boxwell said. “Mainly it’s a thing just for yourself, because ultimately, all the memories, only you can see them.”

Maybe this is BeReal’s final form: Not quite the utopia of authenticity the app proclaims, but at least a platform where everyone is reasonably aware of how inauthentic social media as a whole can be.

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