Authenticity is the theme of 2022 and will continue into 2023.
We’re all bored of the influencer lifestyle, those doctored images on Instagram that were likely taken by a professional photographer.
Real life doesn’t work like that (e.g., the posed shots, bright sunlight, and high-end camera gear), and we all know the reports about how social media leads to depression as we compare ourselves to that perfectly toned millionaire on a beach.
I’ve been saying this for a while, but the real danger with social media is not that we scan through influencer photos or compare ourselves to friends and family once in a while. Living with social media for the last decade, it has more to do with the sheer volume of posts we consume. Expose anyone to a thousand photos of a luxury apartment and expensive clothes over a long period and eventually the cracks will form in our self-esteem.
I’m reminded of a comment I read once about police dramas (it was a passing reference, so I can’t recall the source). If you like police dramas where there is a lot of violence, it might not impact you the first 100 times you watch them. It might not matter even after a few years. Watch them every night for a decade? There might be some actual psychological impact.
Social media is the same way. It’s not like Instagram can change your psychological outlook after flipping through a few glossy photos in one sitting. I wonder about the impact when we use these apps for a decade, though. One solution is to skip the apps altogether, but then we lose the value they provide — e.g., social connections, product discovery, or pure entertainment.
Fortunately, an app called BeReal made a novel attempt to make social media a little more worthwhile in 2022. BeReal came out in 2020 but rose in popularity this year. The company worked with local influencers to promote the app in their circle of influence. The app encourages authenticity. At a specific time of the day, you see a notification to snap a photo and post what is happening in real life, without all of the prep that goes into those staged moments.
I like the idea, although I’ve noticed there’s also a way to circumvent that process. You can actually post a staged photo later, so the process only works if you decide to abide by the immediate notification rules. In my case, I posted a few photos at the predetermined times. I snapped a photo of my spaghetti and one of my torn shoes. Mundane, sure. But real.
I wasn’t a fan of doing that, which is interesting. I questioned why I would post boring photos. Something inside me said, why would anyone care about my spaghetti or my shoes? I realized I had been conditioned by apps like Facebook and Instagram to only post the best moments. I wanted people to care, to click “like” — I wanted some sort of esteem and recognition.
How about you? In one quick scan of my feed, I see staged images of a family meal, another showing a brightly lit winter scene and someone with a winning smile looking at the camera. I didn’t see a single “bad” photo.
Like rats who have been chewing on cheese in a maze, Facebook has conditioned us to post the best moments. That feeds the algorithm, which in turns adds more revenue to advertisers, because amazingly good photos tend to get more traction, engagement, comments, and eyeballs. Authenticity does not feed the algorithm.
An important point to make here is that BeReal does not have any ads. So, in a way, there isn’t a vanity algorithm. There is no machine that feeds ads to us when we post stunning images. There is no social competition; BeReal also won’t appeal to influencers trying to make money. The vanity element is missing, which means high traffic won’t lead to ad revenue.
I’m curious if BeReal can somehow attract more attention. The app had about a million daily active users in 2021, but those numbers jumped up to about 20 million in August of 2022.
That’s impressive, but still nowhere near the dominance of Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. If vanity is missing, and the ads never arrive, I’m not sure how BeReal will ever turn a profit. One crazy idea is that we choose to use apps like this, and even pay for them. There’s a novel concept: paying an app not to show us ads.
Authenticity might be a passing fad, but I hope it lasts.
BeReal is my pick for the top app of 2022, mainly because it’s breaking my habit of posting only the perfect moments. I plan to keep using it as a way to encourage more authenticity. Will you join me?