THE TALMUD ON SOCIAL MEDIA ADDICTION

February 24th, 2015

I discovered something quite incredible last week – so remarkable it blew my mind.

We live in the age of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Amazon, YouTube, eBay, and numerous other virtual venues where ordinary people interface with other ordinary people.

Whether it is for social interaction or to purchase something, we now use exceptionally advanced technology to do things that only ten years ago we would all have done person-to-person.

Some of us may be more aware, some less, that while using these platforms we can acknowledge our approval, or disapproval, of those we interact with, in the form of ‘likes’, or star ratings, or reviews, or comments.

Facebook, which is purely a social networking site, has decided not to include a ‘dislike’ option, but all retail exchange websites enable their users to register disapproval as well as approval after engaging in a transaction with another user.

What I discovered last week was that it is actually possible to buy approvals and ‘likes’ from outfits that specialize in making sure you get positive feedback online.

Are you not scandalized? Go online, and Google ‘buy Facebook likes’. Results will deliver links to more than a quarter of a million websites that can turn you into an online sensation. It is absolutely staggering.

I researched some of them. They didn’t hold back on their promises. One boasted, “you might have heard about the celebrities that are getting huge numbers of followers every time they Tweet, but what about hitting it big on Twitter without the need to be featured on Fox news?”

There are people out there clicking their mouse all day, liking posts from people they have never met and never will. Prices for 1,000 ‘likes’ start at $49.

If you are an Amazon or Ebay seller, you can also buy ‘reviews’ extolling the virtues of your products and customer care. Oddly enough, I always look at reviews before I buy stuff online. Now it transpires that 5-star reviews describing the seller’s honesty and product quality could quite easily be the result of a financial transaction that had nothing to do with the product on sale, and everything to do with dishonesty and misrepresentation.

It is really quite twisted, although I guess we shouldn’t be surprised.

Abhorrent as it is, in the thankless struggle for profits, paying for endorsements could be viewed as an aggressive advertising technique.

But what about people who do this kind of thing for vanity purposes? What is that about? I often wonder why anyone wants so many Facebook friends in the first place. How many friends do we all really have, or even need? What is driving this frenzied attempt to be popular?

The Jerusalem Talmud in Tractate Nedarim records a famous debate between Rabbi Akiva and Ben Azzai, each of them proposing their choice for the central theme of the Torah.

Rabbi Akiva asserts that it is the requirement to love ones fellow man as one does oneself, as recorded in the Torah portion of Kedoshim (Lev. 19:18). Ben Azzai disagrees, and posits that the concept of man being created in the image of God, as recorded in Bereishit, is the central theme.

A variant record of this debate cites a third view, that of Rabbi Shimon ben Pazi (see: Netivot Olam, Maharal): “we have found a verse that greater exemplifies [the essence of the Torah], namely ‘You shall offer one sheep in the morning and a second sheep in the afternoon.’” This verse is from Tetzaveh, instructing us to bring a twice daily Temple sacrifice.

This curious disagreement seems rhetorical and abstruse, with the different opinions seemingly completely unconnected. Upon closer examination, however, it turns out that they are all profoundly related.

There are three basic relationships characterizing human life. The first is how one relates to oneself, the second is one’s relationship with other human beings, and the third is one’s relationship with God. If any one of these relationships is deficient, all three will suffer.

The most important relationship of all is without a doubt the one you have with yourself. A person with low self-esteem will never achieve his or her true potential.

Rabbi Akiva is of the view that self-esteem is perfected by being kind to others.

Ben Azai disagrees. If a person has low self-esteem, he cannot truly love others. So before trying to love others, one must constantly remind oneself that we were created in God’s image. By reinforcing one’s self-image in this way, the other relationships will inevitably follow.

Rabbi Shimon ben Pazi is not happy with either Rabbi Akiva or Ben Azai. The knowledge that one is created in God’s image is only an indicator of one’s potential. The unfulfilled promise of potential can be very daunting, badly knocking a person’s self-esteem.

Instead, he suggests that by serving God twice every day, at His request, we will achieve healthy self-esteem. Just by knowing that God needs us we will feel good about ourselves.

In reality, all of these great Talmudic rabbis agreed with each other. They all determined that without healthy self-esteem we cannot realize our full potential.

Numerous studies have shown that social networking not only feeds on low self-esteem, but encourages it. If you post something new on Facebook, or change your profile photo, and your post or update is not immediately acknowledged by numerous ‘likes’, you begin to feel like a nobody.

So much so, that evidently people are willing to pay for online recognition, in the hope that this will boost their public image. Of course it does not, and never will.

It is imperative that we move away from manufactured self-esteem, and embrace real relationships with man and God. Only if all our relationships are real will we guarantee a meaningful life for ourselves and for those close to us.

Photo Copyright: rvlsoft

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