BeReal App Suitable for Family?

Three screenshots from a smartphone with the BeReal app displayed. Is the BeReal app suitable for a family?
BeReal app suitable for family?

Dear Ms. Smartphone:  We recently moved here from the UK. I check-in back there with the usual social media but I prefer a newer app called BeReal. I am wondering if the BeReal app could be like a provisional license for my pre-teen, who is 10 years old. I just got him his first phone and I was hoping to use these next few months, and this time spent abroad, to do some digital training. When I came across your column you had a piece on the provisional driver’s license and phones. I would like to find an app suitable for a family. Louisa, Cambridge.

Dear Louisa: BeReal may not be a household name here yet but I appreciate your bringing this app from Europe to our attention. I would agree that it has the potential to be a good learning device for kid’s getting started on phones, and hence, serve like a provisional driver’s license for young people. Equally important, it is a way for you and your tween to share digital time together.

For those unfamiliar with BeReal (not to be confused with the ‘RealReal’) the app was developed in France two years ago. It is sometimes called boring, unsocial media. It does appeal to young people but is uniquely different than say TikTok or Instagram.  Once a day, at random times, the app simultaneously notifies all users of a two-minute window. During this two minute window BeReal users post just two pictures from their phone. One is taken from the front camera on their phone (like a selfie) and the other picture from the rear camera(location/activity). These two pictures provide a visual depiction of what the user is doing in that present moment. It is literally a snapshot in time!

Full disclosure– I haven’t been able to recruit my own family to go online and BeReal but I would happily do so. It might augment the daily phone calls and be a little spicier with its visual detail. And, as you noted, it is a decent way to stay in touch with people who are far-away. I would imagine that people who are isolated, say an elderly person or a shut-in, would look forward to the BeReal moment because, like FaceTime, it would vicariously bring more of their circle together. It would also help them gain more experience using the features on their smartphone.

By the same logic, I agree that it could be a useful tool for onboarding your tweens into the ways of social media. The initial group that you share these “slice of life” photos with should be your immediate family and close friends back home. It doesn’t have to be a large group at all.

There are other reasons why the app might serve as a good provisional learning tool. BeReal has a two-minute posting window, and let’s users delete a picture only once. That means they do not get the opportunity to pour over their selfies and curate them for better ‘stage effects.’ BeReal does not allow photo filters or other editing. Best of all, it has no advertising or follower counts. I have read secondhand that their marketing material says, “the app can be addictive but it won’t make you famous.”

Is there a downside? In order to fulfill the two-minute window, the app must notify you and break into any activity you are involved in at that moment. For your tween’s provisional learning exercise here are two thoughts. First, have a discussion with your tween about the power of deep concentration (see this link to podcast and books by Cal Newport). Reach an agreement that you will ignore the BeReal call -to -action sometimes, for example, during homework, family meals, time in school, church, and crossing the street.  It should also be ignored when the call to-action comes within an hour of waking up or bedtime. This is key, since ignoring some times to post, but over-thinking others, could undermine the simplicity behind the app. (see this counter piece by a UCLA student).

When using the app, it is vital that you have these ‘do not disturb’ rules and set them on the phone. You can show your tween the Focus feature on a newer Apple phone or an equivalent one on an Android device. And, before you start posting these daily pictures together, you and your tween should discuss BeReal’s fine print. Who “owns” the pictures you will all post and what legally are they able to do with them?

BeReal is in a ‘snowball’ growth stage these days- perhaps with 10 million users. As it rolls along the print media, and word-of-mouth make us more aware of it. Naturally TikTok, Snapchat, and Instagram have paid attention, but don’t broadcast this because it could be a disruptive force. They are all testing similar features that use the dual camera feature. They also encourage users to streak (post for multiple days in a row). It will be interesting to see how it plays out since users on the big social media platforms present a varnished, edited image of themselves while the essence of  BeReal is to be well, humble, modest, and well, Real.

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