Anna Freiman '21
First Place, High School Essay
Kaplun Foundation Contest
Albeit a product of the series of technological revolutions that have characterized the 21st century, social media’s rise to power should not be attributed to its innovative aspects, but rather to the fact that it feeds an undernourished part of the human psyche; the desire to protect ourselves. By carefully curating our pages and profiles, we build an image of ourselves that is much closer to who we aspire to be than to who we really are. We blur the lines between fantasy and reality, putting up a facade and often losing ourselves in it. For, social media does not give us an outlet to express our deepest selves. It is not a place to discover who we are nor draw the boundaries of our identities. It is not a place for growth nor truth. It is a place for pretending. It is an escape from reality. It is a battlefield with no victors.
When we open Instagram, Snapchat, or Facebook, we renounce our identities. We relinquish our freedom. We say goodbye to truly living our lives. Slaves to our society, we are constantly looking to capture snapshots that convey happiness as opposed to living in the harsh reality that not every moment will be picture perfect. The nature of man is not to rejoice at all times, but rather to suffer so that we can turn the pain of the past into the sweetness of the future. By allowing us to become increasingly selective in which parts of our lives we share with the public, social media closes our minds to this reality and inculcates within us the misconstrued notion that a life without perennial glee is not a life worth living. And so, when we see our friends’ advertising their successes, we are unable to relish in their joy, and instead plunge ourselves into an endless cycle of jealousy and despair. For, when we see their accomplishments, the competitiveness and desire to achieve that has been the driving force of human advancement for millennia - dangerously coupled with the fundamentally false notion that we must always be happy - sparks feelings of anger, resentment, and shame, creating a vicious society filled with unhealthy rivalry and hatred. Mankind may have been built to want more, it may be in our nature to always dream of better things, but if we succumb to that, we relinquish any hopes of happiness. A life of jealousy is a life of loneliness and sorrow. It is an inability to recognize that we are not what we have but the values that we share; that we are not what we take but what we give; that there is a calling higher than appetite and desire. These are the fundamental ideas that were expressed in the 10th commandment. These are the blueprints of a successful society gifted to the Jewish people. These are the insights into the human psyche provided by the Creator of mankind Himself thousands of years ago. And so, these are the outspoken secrets of happiness that modern society, in its obsession with glamour and competition, has chosen to ignore.
We may be creatures of habit, but our habits can be changed, especially in our youth. Today’s youth is the generation suffering the most from the adverse psychological effects of social media. It is the generation plagued by depression and loneliness. It is the broken generation, but it is the generation that needs to be strong, for it is the one tasked with navigating society out of the troubling times it has fallen into. And so, to save our youth, bring back life to the leaders of tomorrow, and protect the future of the Jewish nation and of mankind as a whole, we must internalize the 10th commandment and all that comes with it. We must remember the distinction between reality and fantasy, we must work on ourselves instead of on our facades, and we must learn to be genuinely happy for the achievements of others. It may be in our nature to experience jealousy, it may at times even be inevitable, but our values hold that we rise above our nature in humbling acts of self-control and recognition of our smallness in comparison to the Creator’s greater plan. Devout Jews believe that G-d has - in unimaginable feats of power and brilliance - mapped out every moment of their existence and given them everything they need to triumph over their evil inclinations, thereby enabling them to serve their purpose of perfecting themselves and bringing mankind closer to the Final Redemption, but social media pulls us away from this eye-opening certainty. It attempts to flood our world of light with darkness by contradicting some of Judaism’s most fundamental values: brotherhood, happiness, and personal growth.
Encouraging jealousy and promoting competition where there should be none, it stops us from rejoicing in the joy of our neighbors. It has trained us to, when we see friends’ posts, not think thoughts of celebration nor love, but of envy. The destructive nature of envy lies in that the trait does not end there. Rather, it forces the bearer down a seemingly bottomless pit of depression, for no matter the good fortune that comes their way, they will always be fixated on the lot of others. Social media shines a bright light on the happiest parts of people’s lives, sparking rampant feelings of jealousy, but it neglects to highlight the forgotten fact that our profiles are far from synonymous with the often mundane reality of our everyday lives. We carefully stage, select, and edit every photo we post, often spending hours scrutinizing every detail before we showcase it to the public in order to make our lives seem as perfect as possible. This doesn’t only incapacitate us from experiencing genuine joy, but also reinforces a misconstructed sense of self and morality by emphasizing the importance of our actions only when the spotlight is shining on us. But, the 10th commandment holds that the true test of character is not what we do in the spotlight, but how we behave ourselves when no-one is watching. Who are we when we are hiding in the darkness? Who are we when we are not aiming to prove ourselves? Who are we when we are not attempting to make others jealous? Social media neglects who we are when we are surreptitiously secluded in the privacy of our own homes, but then and only then, when we are certain that no-one but G-d Himself is watching, do we truly step into ourselves. And, even in these rare moments of solitude, we usually are not truly alone. Staking our claims to productivity, we drown ourselves in the physical world around us, but, often, we employ productivity as a means to justify our endless mission to complete an impossible escape; the escape from oneself. We take on projects and tasks so that even when we are alone, we aren’t trapped with our thoughts or forced to look into ourselves. And when we finish that, we turn to social media, for it's far less painful to scrutinize others than it is to reflect on our own lives. But, to escape this cycle and return to reality, we must recognize the immense value of the 10th commandment. It goes far beyond “thou shalt not covet.” It means far more than reminding yourself to be happy with what you have. It is greater than understanding that others’ fortunes do not affect Hashem's plans for us. The 10th commandment tells us that instead of being jealous of what others have, we should be inspired by who they are. We should look for their strengths, admire their qualities, and strive to imbue those within ourselves. Our purpose on this Earth is to toil; our destiny is to struggle, but that hard work is meant to be on ourselves. Social media distracts us from our personal growth; it lets us escape into a faraway fantasy where perfection and deficiency are characteristics of material things, not of our souls. With each scroll on social media, we must remind ourselves of what matters to us. We don’t need a new car, we don’t need a glamorous vacation, we don’t need something to brag about. We need inspiration. We need motivation. We need to re-energize our desire to perfect ourselves and grow closer to our G-d. By internalizing the 10th commandment, we can look beyond the physical facade of every photo we see online; we can see past the number of likes and into the Godliness that lies within every person and thing. This commandment is the key to successful relationships, and, especially online, it is a gateway to personal growth. With a deep-rooted understanding of modern society’s exacerbation of the shortcomings of human nature, alongside a genuine desire for growth regardless of who is watching, we can employ the wisdom of the 10th commandment and begin not to avoid social media, but to utilize its strengths and ability to connect man to his neighbor.