I was proud. After denying it for years, I finally accepted that TikTok is a fun and useful app. I produced my first contribution, a clip of my wee dog hugging a stuffed bear. Intellectual? No. Exquisite serotonin juice? Absolutely. If I had more than nine followers, it might have gone viral. (It would not have, but don’t tell Rocket. He’s very vain.)
I met a friend the next night at St. Petersburg’s Dracula’s Legacy, a Dracula-themed wine bar complete with a winged throne and gargoyle toilet paper holder. Did you know St. Pete has a Dracula wine bar? All the house wines come from Romania! Make haste!
Anyway, not the topic. My pal mentioned sharing the Dracula bar on BeReal. I pretended to know what she was talking about and quietly Googled “BeReal” in the same window where I’d been Googling “perimenopause age.” Not another social network, the description insisted. I huffed, wondering if I was warm from the Romanian wine, indignation or the other thing.
The next day, my boss, unprompted, described BeReal as the only good social media app. She held up her phone and showed off shots of what appeared to be … her friends sitting in parking lots.
Why was this arguably boring platform suddenly everywhere? That thing was happening where you buy a blue Toyota Camry and start to notice beaucoup blue Toyota Camrys on the road. The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon for Rapidly Aging People.
BeReal, a French app born in 2020, grew so popular this year that TikTok has already ripped it off. It’s a come-as-you-are party. Once a day, BeReal urges users to post whatever lies before them, no matter how mundane (parking lots). Then, the app assaults users with a selfie. If the picture turns out traumatic, as my first one did, you can retake it. But there’s a catch; the app tattles, alerting everyone that you are not real. Real people display their chin acne once a day!
You might be reading this going, “Wait, I’m just now getting on Instagram.” Or, “I’m still using Facebook, should I get my affairs in order?” Or, “Any advice for my abundance of Kodak disposable cameras?”
Dreadful, the realization that culture moves on with or without you. Exhausting, the quest to keep up. BeReal isn’t the only newcomer. Heard of Supernova? Applaudable? Sunroom? Polywork? Are you sweating? Does it happen for, like, just a few minutes and then it passes or... never mind.
It’s always the coolest, least-exposed people who seem to know new things first. They keep a sophisticated internet presence while I employ all the nuance of Corn Kid. They visit Europe without a single nugget of online evidence. I visit Publix and post six Instagram stories, two tweets and a photo in a novelty llama mask.
Coolness is futile, friends. Irrelevance is beautiful. Perhaps not coincidentally, that’s why BeReal has caught on. At its best, social media functions as a incubator for connection and creativity, an illuminator of new talents, a treasure trove of stories. But people have grown weary of the hustle for influence, the constant monetization. They just want to live, and it turns out most living happens in parking lots.
Spend your days with Hayes
Subscribe to our free Stephinitely newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
We’re all stuck in this social media ecosystem, and it’s hard not to be cynical when even the most banal and boring moments inevitably become extensions of our Personal Brands. Perhaps the answer is to just be generous to each other as we cope with the flattening of our vast and interesting selves into a series of triple-chin selfies and dull-as-bricks parking lot photos.*
*Check back with me next year, when my BeReal roll will rival the hallowed grounds of a Costco.
Get Stephanie’s newsletter
For weekly bonus content and a look inside columns by Stephanie Hayes, sign up for the free Stephinitely newsletter.