If you haven't heard of the new BeReal app you're forgiven. It was designed and financed by the cohorts of Generation Z: whose revulsion with social media’s highly curated platforms of perfectionism has created what Psychology Today is calling “Existential Dread.”
Created by French entrepreneur Alexis Barreyat, BeReal was designed in 2020 to question social media addiction and cull its overuse. Here’s how it works.
What is BeReal?
Once a day, BeReal randomly notifies its users they have a two-minute window to post their photo and location. It invites them to share an image of whatever they’re doing, and wherever they are, at that precise moment.
Perhaps they’re sitting in class, standing in line at the grocery store, staring at their computer screen or streaming a show. Regardless of how mundane their activity may be, they’re asked to snap one photo with their front and back facing camera to capture themselves > in their environment > at that moment. That’s right. Once per day, in a myriad of different ways, they’re captured quite suddenly in their own reality. No time for editing. Certainly no do-overs. And if they dare to post outside of the allocated two-minute window, their followers are summarily notified: “This post is not a true representation of the user’s life at this moment.”
Touted as an ‘experiment with authenticity,’ BeReal was specifically designed to capture our actual footprint in real time and Gen Z — the first generation to be born in the digital age — are responding, if not rewriting social media's playbook.
The Social Dilemma
Existentialism explores the meaning, purpose and value of human existence, and “Existential Angst" is that sense of dread, confusion, disorientation or anxiety we can feel about a world we don’t always understand. “But what really exists,” says Barreyat, “is anyone’s guess because platforms like Instagram and TikTok are driven less by reality than by human performances.”
Barreyat continues. “These platforms drive conspiracy theories, disinformation, self-promotion, delusion, addiction and depression. Addressing them all,” the designer asserts, “begins with being real.”
At a seemingly random point every 24 hours, Kevin Lee gets a notification to post a selfie. “Time to BeReal,” says the alert on his phone, and a two-minute countdown clock begins.
Some mornings, the 27-year-old software engineer from Los Angeles receives the notification before he’s gotten out of bed. “I look terrible,” Lee says, “but I just do it.”
Pitched as an authentic, unfiltered alternative to the curated posts on Instagram and TikTok, BeReal has received millions of dollars from investors like Andreessen Horowitz, a prominent player in Silicon Valley whose thrown cash at Clubhouse, OpenSea, and Substack in recent years that nurture authentic engagements and communities.
With a full-court press on college campuses, the company employs marketer Emily Moravits, who previously led the student ambassador program for Bumble. On-the-ground events, strategically located in university towns, has ignited a young userbase for the app in Europe and North America. BeReal has been downloaded 10.41 million times to date, with 65% of its users joining in 2022.
Last month, Harvard student Mariah Norman declared “photo dumps on Instagram are so passé that even our parent’s do it.” Perhaps that’s the point. Enamored by the unfiltered feeds on BeReal she wrote, “Because we’ve better things to do than peruse that perfect pose or background, our content while charmingly mundane is extraordinarily authentic.”
In fact, the lion’s share of Instagram’s 1.3 billion users are Millennials (the parents of Generation Z) of whom Ms. Norman observes, “watching our parents filter and fuss over their own images for the past 11 years has been an object lesson in self-aggrandizement. There must be something more to life than shameless self-promotion.”
Man’s Search For Meaning
Dr. Viktor Frankl — a renown psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor — wrote about his experience at Auschwitz in Man’s Search for Meaning. Chronicling his experience as a prisoner in Nazi concentration camps during World War II, Frankl observed that “prisoners able to find meaning from adversity survived while others perished.”
Sigmund Freud's “Will to Pleasure” and Friedrich Nietzsche’s “Will to Power” shaped early theories of psychology and politics in the 20th century. But for Frankl, it was a stint in a concentration camp that enabled him to snap an interesting insight. Distinguishing prisoners from survivors, the latter's purpose in life was discovered, defended, even carefully amended not by their 'perception of reality,' but by a sudden and extemporaneous experience with the real world.
“It’s impossible to engage our internal GPS,” says Barreyat, “if we don’t know exactly where we are.” So if you’re experiencing angst or anxiety over the social media blitz you’re forgiven. “It’s simply wrong to follow society randomly,” said Frankl in Man's Search for Meaning. “Always look for a real deal.”