Society constantly forces us to take note of each other. Maybe the girl walking in front of you on the street has a really nice outfit that you notice or there’s a person in your lecture with unique penmanship that you admired over the last week. We all participate in the perception of each other — our fashions, habits and attitudes.
The concept of “being perceived” by the people around you or yourself has become more and more prevalent — social media has increased our ability to perceive one other and create a carefully manicured online persona. The platform BeReal seems to have taken it to another level where we are able to post what we are doing, who we are with and where we are in synchronicity with our friends.
BeReal launched in 2020 from French entrepreneurs Alexis Barreyat and Kévin Perreau. It is a photo-sharing app that notifies users to “be real” once a day — at any given time — and will take a picture on the front and back-facing camera of your phone.
When it started gaining traction, there was talk that BeReal would become the anti-social media platform. It was meant to be honest: people would capture what they were doing at a random moment of the day, offering their friends a glimpse into what they were up to at that moment.
As with most social media that attempts to have pure and good intentions, things did not stay that way. If you happen to miss your time to “be real,” you have the option to post late, but your post will note that you posted “10 minutes late” or “5 hours late.” If you go to a concert one night, but BeReal sent you a notification at 2:30 p.m. while you were waking up from a nap between classes, you can just ignore it until you are at the venue with all your friends — a much more exciting post.
Constantly worrying about your perception is a lost cause — there will always be someone who has different tastes, opinions or experiences, and we cannot expect to be adored by everyone in public. At one point, there was a solid week where BeReal caught me just waking up or still in bed.
I would scroll through seeing others posting in class or at a morning workout session, and I worried what people would think — would they wonder why I had not seized the day more and gotten an early start or would they think that I was just a lazy journalism student who has it easy turning in short articles and photo projects.
It took awhile for me to realize that I could not control those other voices and opinions.
Posting to any sort of social media opens you up to perception and gives you the ability to alter how you will be viewed online. A popular sentiment among young people is that they do not want to be aware that they are being perceived. The knowledge that at any given moment, someone could notice you, take you in and possibly make a judgment on you can be a heavy weight to bear.
There has been an uptick in man on the street content, where someone might film a TikTok interviewing people and ask questions ranging from mundane to more controversial topics. It is a bit jarring to imagine someone walking up to you and asking for help making content while you are walking in the city. It adds a level of intrusion to perception because your private self has been publicized and corrupted in a way it was never intended to be. That style of content reflects how little regard some people have for the anonymity of being a face in a crowd.
This feeling of constantly being surveilled can become exhausting, but most people continue on and tailor themselves in a way fit for others’ perception and acknowledgement. It may be because putting on that perfect outfit and acting in line with what is “standard” helps people hide behind the facade, they are protecting themselves — the true self that may be reserved for friends.
Being aware of how you come across to others is a universal problem, and the universal messaging to solve this is always along the lines that no one is paying attention to you and what you are doing because they are already too focused on themselves. This is sound advice, but it is not completely correct — everyone is watching and paying attention in some capacity, especially thanks to social media.
However, how much people care and put weight into what others post online is key to remember. Not everyone will be wondering why you posted a BeReal 15 hours late for the rest of their day, even though it might consume you for the rest of yours.
I am not condemning BeReal, but I do think it has a vastly different meaning when used not as its creators intended. It is something that can be fun and remind us that every moment is real, and does not always have to be something exciting. It is just a slice of a day — a day which is filled with uninteresting moments that do not add or take away from how we should be perceived.
Perception does have quite the grip on society at times. We should focus on our own ideas of how life should be for ourselves. Am I happy with where I’m headed in life? Do I feel confident walking out the door today? We may need to take a step back from the minutiae of everyone else’s lives and just exist.