Opinion //

Michael Spence Column for Disagreeing Well: BeReal is extremely sinister

GetReal! BeReal is bad for our brains.

Guy Suttner’s article ‘BeReal: Not the antidote to social media’ last week made some persuasive claims about why BeReal doesn’t correctly diagnose the reason why social media is rotting our collective brain. But I’m going to go further: BeReal is an actively sinister psychological force. You should log the fuck off. 

Long ago, in the 1890s, Ivan Pavlov accidentally discovered classical conditioning while researching salivation in dogs. It turns out, brains make associations between different stimuli when they’re presented in close succession. In those bygone dogs’ case, it was the ticking of a metronome and some dog food. In yours, it’s the BeReal notification and the glow of psychological validation. 

Well, you might say, so what? Why shouldn’t I log onto my BeReal and get the pleasant cognitive shimmer of seeing my friends’ random vignettes? What harm does it do?

Conditioning yourself to respond reflexively to the demands of a computer is insane. It’s nothing short of degrading to be bossed around by a phone app – some sort of twisted mass ritual of cyber voyeurism. 

The real problem with social media isn’t that it’s fake: it’s that it worms its way into the recesses of our crania. Our thought processes get irreparably warped by what we see online: the overwhelming access to information, the rampancy of conflict and misinformation, the immediacy of the perverse in all aspects of our lives. BeReal drags us ever more inextricably into communion with the internet, leaving us waiting, dog-like, for our daily two minutes of Being Real. 

Long ago, in 2014, Dong Nguyen, the creator of the viral phone game Flappy Bird, removed the game from the App Store. Recognising that its addictive simplicity and uncontrollable virality made it dangerous, Nguyen refused to be a digital Dr Frankenstein. The creators of BeReal ought to do the same.