My thoughts about BeReal and journaling

BeReal is a rather new social media site/app that has some questionable design choices and it also makes me ring alarm bells because of its creepy and rather ironic "non-realness". In this post, I'll try to answer why it doesn't meet my needs and why I want to avoid registering to it.

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Time to read: 7 minutes.

Story time

A few months ago, I was in a bar with my friends. Speaking, telling each other stories; we were really deep in the conversation and had fun. Suddenly, every one of my friends’ phones started ringing at the same time (Sorry, vibrating; the Z generation never turns the ring volume up. :D ) and they let out this (dystopian sounding) sentence as one:

“It’s BeReal time!”.

Phones got out of pockets, shutters clicked, but nearly all the photos and selfies (I declined and slid away to the edge of the bench) had to be retaken once or twice (so much for realness). After every picture had been uploaded, they scrolled for a few minutes to catch up with others’ shenanigans on an average Monday evening at roughly 8 PM. When they finished, conversation went back to normal.

I’ve heard about the app before, so this wasn’t anything new, but seeing all this transpire in front of my eyes got me sinking deep into a rabbit-hole of thoughts, which I can write out here. I don’t plan to ever use the app itself (not that anyone forces me to do so), because one: I think it can be improved in several ways, and two: even if it’s improved, it will probably still retain its social media roots; this family of online services are notorious for predatory practices which I don’t want to be a victim of.

If it’s a journaling application, why does it have an online functionality?

Writing a diary is a deeply personal activity that — depending on the method you choose — requires continous effort in set intervals.

I maintained a no-picture journal on my computer between 2018 and 2022. Since then I stopped, because of the amount of time it took. Sometimes, I couldn’t write in it for days; I felt that the diary needed to be kept up with nearly every single day, so I retroactively edited it each time. These periods where I couldn’t work on it became gradually longer and longer (especially in the Summer when I didn’t have a computer in front of me for days at a time). I tried hard to keep it up-to-date, once even writing three weeks worth of happenings in it in the span of four hours with no breaks. When my university studies kept taking more and more time away from me, that’s when I decided to put this activity of mine to rest for a while.

My diary — which was 753 pages long when I stopped writing in it — is one of my most treasured things detailing nearly every day of my life from high school until the first year of university. It’s an awesome resource and it helped me tremendously during my teenage years.

Before I began writing this post, I thought about continuing this activity in one way or another. Editing a text document takes too much time away from me, but it could be the most expressive. A kind of hybrid approach is using an app. Take an image, write small a small amount of text (optionally take note of your mood with an emoji) and boom, your journal entry is done for the day. It’s not that expressive (this is up for debate; sometimes images say more than pure words), but it’s more convenient and takes less time. BeReal sadly only allows writing a limited amount of characters to each post you make; it’s enough for a longer caption, but unfit for detailed, fully realised thoughts (no mood tracking functionality either).

I would still consider using BeReal for my journaling needs though, since it has some features that I like:

  • Notifications at random times each day are quirky as hell. They encourage spontaneity and provide opportunity to capture the essence of your day. This functionality really makes you feel you’re capturing the moment you are in in that point and time. Your entries would look more authentic.
  • Capturing images with both cameras simultaneously is a great idea. They not only document the things you did (back camera), but the people you did it with (front camera).

But BeReal is a social site, not a journaling service

And this is where it falls short for me. It would force me to share my entries with friends that may contain details about my whereabouts, thoughts, and actions that day. As much as I like the people I would follow on the app, I don’t want them to know these things in incredible detail. You can’t make your posts too personal, since It’s nobody’s business to know where you were, what you did, what you said, what you thought unless you explicitly tell them in person or by chatting.

Yeah, I could solve this problem with making an account but not following anyone. That way, nobody could be able to see what you post, and you can use BeReal like any other journaling companion. Still, there’s the underlying caveat of handing those memories over to the company running BeReal.

Wild DATAHARVESTER appeared!

We don’t live in 2010 anymore, so if I say that social media sites are nothing more than data-harvesting machines, I think nobody would be surprised. BeReal is not an exception either. The stuff I would upload, I wouldn’t have full control over after I press SEND; it’s out of my hands from that point onward and BeReal would be free to do anything they want with it. My face (if I would be exceptionally handsome — which I’m not and my phone’s camera sucks ass too) could be plastered all over the city on billboards promoting this app without my explicit permission (yeah, I made an account, I agreed to it, that’s my fault).

Overexaggerated examples: off…

Luckily, they changed their terms, meaning they don’t store your photos for up to three decades if — and only if — you request your data to be purged from their servers (see link above).

where money?

BeReal, as it stands right now is also not really profitable to maintain from a financial standpoint. It has no ads, no premium features, nothing that you can pay for. It runs entirely on investors who — for the most part — don’t want to get their money back right now. Now, shit will hit the fan once they do.

In this day and age, data is the new oil. The only thing that BeReal can turn into money is the posts and telemetry their users provided. And boy, do they love to promote oversharing by sending you daily notifications and “publicly shaming” anyone that wasn’t available for two quick pics during the first few minutes of that notification’s arrival.

And don’t get me wrong, no investor is curious about you personally. Where you ate, where you had fun etc. doesn’t matter in the long run. Keep in mind though, that you wouldn’t be the only user of this service. Once we view the big picture and take into account all the millions of users’ pics, location data, habits throughout the day, moods (guessed from the pictures) and so on, the conversation will shift from memoirs of a few fun nights with friends, to a talk about terabytes upon terabytes of (highly or non-highly, doesn’t matter) personal information. Those who have all this data, have the power to do anything with it.

It can be used to manipulate large groups of people during politically heated times (like in the infamous scandal of Facebook and Cambridge Analytica), or have a somewhat accurate picture of different demographics’ collective moods like how Spotify has.

We as mere mortals are not smart enough to comprehend and take all possible use-cases of large amounts of data into account (whether they are positive, negative or anywhere in between). The best thing we can do is to avoid using these kinds of services altogether; just to be safe.


BeReal does not meet my standards of a usable and fair service. I also don’t get the point of it having a journal-like functionality, mixed with the corporate emptiness of your everyday social media app. It doesn’t live up to its name, since it lets users retake the photos, and it does everything it can to make you to overshare. This behaviour is creepy and unhealthy looking. Not to mention the fact that it’s closed source which would be enough reason not to use it. If I can’t see the source code, the app has something to hide.

I don’t have any problems if you use it, just promise me you’ll use it with caution.

I also don’t like how it excites peer-pressure whenever I happen to hang out with a larger group of acquaintances who are frequent users of the app. They get the notification and automatically assume that I’m okay with having my face be in their posts. I usually decline for the aforementioned reasons and luckily, I haven’t had any problems with this. However, I can see how people with similar views to mine would feel like an outcast whenever this happens. Please, ask first and don’t get offended if I don’t want to be real with you.

I don’t mean it personally, I just have problems with the business practices of the service you decided to use. If you have an ethical journal-companion (like the one I’ll show below), I’d be really happy to take a pic with you.

Thank you for reading! If you have anything to add, leave a comment down below. I’m curious to read your thoughts. See you soon!

Extra app suggestion

If you’re like me and looking for an app that functions closely like BeReal, but with zero (and I really mean zero, so no ads either) online activity, I recommend OneShot. It’s an Android app that’s free software and you can take pictures, write notes and track your daily mood with it each day. It stores your entries locally in a database on your phone, so you can even open that file on your laptop or anywhere you choose. A simplified, free (as in freedom) diary, if you will.

Since it’s free software, even I can contribute to its development. I’m currently planning to work on an opt-in notification system that closely resembles BeReal’s behaviour in that regard.

Get it from IzzyOnDroid.

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