Casey Neistat’s new app, Beme, is designed to create a contrast to the carefully curated personas featured on social media profiles. Instead of adding filters to make photos look better, reviewing videos before posting, or adding witty comments in hopes of collecting “favorites” or “hearts,” users record four-second video snippets by lifting the phone to their chests, which activates the camera. They can’t review the video or add comments before posting.
This, Neistat explains in a video, aims to correct a problem with other social media platforms. “Social media is supposed to be a digital or virtual version of who we are as people,” he says. “Instead, it’s this highly sculpted, calibrated version of who we are, told through filters that make our eyes bluer and carefully selected images to portray a version of who we are that doesn’t really resemble the reality of things…I’m not sharing the real me, I’m sharing a version of me.”
Here’s the problem: Who is the real me? Even in physical space, we all present versions of ourselves that are sculpted and calibrated. The selves we present at work, for instance, are quite different than the selves we present when we’re with our parents or at a concert. People invest in colored contact lenses, makeup, and plastic surgery: the physical world’s versions of Instagram filters. Creating versions of who we are is a human condition, not a digital one.
And shooting shaky video from the chest is not likely to change that.
After downloading Beme, I find clips labeled “nearby strangers,” “far away strangers,” and “interesting strangers.” I see a cat in New Jersey. A shaky shot of a bike rested against an apartment hallway in Broadmead, England. Some window blinds in Florida. And oh so many keyboards. “So you can’t actually see what you’re recording,” is the only dialogue I catch after an hour or so of playing with the app. It’s toward the end of a video shot by one of my friends, who appears to be explaining the app to someone–though the footage is mostly of the ceiling, so I can’t be sure.
Like Snapchat, the videos disappear once they’re consumed, relieving creators of the scrapbook mentality of Facebook or Instagram. But in this case, shooting video from the chest that is uploaded instantly also relieves them of any artistic responsibility. As intended, they’re not trying to impress me. But from an experience standpoint, I would prefer that they were.
I like Beme’s statement. It points out how as a culture we’re obsessed with curating an image, and it valiantly aims to counteract the habit of viewing everything through the perspective of how it will look to followers, friends, and others who we’ll share it with. “Instead of seeing the world through your eyes,” Neistat says, “you see the world through your phone.”
But I disagree with Neistat’s view about what social media is supposed to be. I don’t want to experience your uncurated reality on a platform like Twitter any more than I want my boss to show up to work wearing swim trunks (even if it is his more true self, on the weekends at least). I am annoyed when people overpost to Facebook with mundane photos. I go to Instagram not to see the reality of things, but precisely to see what is most beautiful or exciting or interesting. And like everybody else in on the cliche, I don’t want to hear about your lunch on Twitter.
Maybe video clips that are shot blind, not reviewed or edited, and instantly broadcasted, will create a less-invasive way to share. But the result is not a “real me,” just another version–and one that’s so far much less fun to follow.