Social media is killing people around the world. I’m not referring to the countless hours that so many of us waste in front of our screens, but to the hundreds of fatalities—mostly young people—who have lost their lives in pursuit of the perfect picture, whether it’s on the edge of a cliff or in front of a speeding train.

MyMy heart aches for these people who have lost their lives for nothing heart aches for these people who have lost their lives for nothing. It makes me wonder what motivates young people with promising futures to risk their lives for a few ‘likes’. And then I ask myself, what is it that motivates someone like myself—who isn’t going to risk his life for a photo—to spend countless hours on social media? Why am I throwing away so many hours of my life in front of the screen?

Dr. Eric Berne, founder of Transactional Analysis, explained that people hunger for validation and attention. Infants want to be held and are likely to develop emotional and physical difficulties if they aren’t. Berne postulated that adults, like infants, crave physical contact, but learn to substitute other types of recognition. So while an infant needs a cuddle, an adult craves a smile, a hello, or a ‘like’ on social media.

Bern defines the acts of attention we receive from others as “strokes,” and our need to be stroked is a real hunger, known as recognition hunger.

We hunger for attention because it validates us. Emotionally, many of us operate in a mode that could be described as, “I am who I am because others notice me, and if no one notices me then who am I?”

Perhaps this is why solitary confinement is such a harsh punishment that it leads prisoners to harm themselves just to escape the loneliness and gain some social interaction. It is also why we easily become upset when someone fails to notice us in a social setting.

The sages were aware of the human need for validation, and instructed us to always be first to greet others.1 A simple greeting can make a world of difference to a person who is starved for attention. The Torah wants to create an environment where people are aware of one another. This is so important, that if someone greets you, and you fail to respond, it is considered as if you stole something from that person.2

In our modern world, where many of us study alone, live far from family and friends, and work behind a screen, the dearth of human contact leads us to social media. Those with an extra dose of recognition hunger may go looking for more extreme and dangerous ways to get that social media attention, which can sadly lead to severe injury or even death.

But the Torah teaches us that we don’t need to be enslaved to recognition hunger.

The sages explain that “the only free person is one who learns Torah,”3Recognition hunger can never be satisfied because Torah learning is a redemptive process that teaches us to be guided by maturity, and to make decisions based on what’s right and wrong, regardless of what may win us recognition or attention.

Recognition hunger, like many worldly desires and addictions, can never be satisfied. Even the most successful media stars, whose posts are liked and shared by millions of followers, often feel burned out and unhappy. We are fortunate to know that G‑d’s recognition is what really counts, and He is always watching. “Know what is above you, a seeing eye, a hearing ear and all your actions are being inscribed.”4 So let us not become enslaved to the habit of collecting people’s ‘likes’, and focus on becoming happier and more satisfied by doing what we know to be right, even if it doesn’t always earn us the same public recognition.