Obsession with filming life and even a death … where will it all end?


Mitch Albom - Detroit Free Press



She lost her kid sister, but not her phone. She kept on filming, before the accident and after the accident, in which her 14-year-old sibling was ejected out a car window and lay bloody in a field.

“My sister is (expletive) dying,” 18-year-old Obdulia Sanchez narrated into her cellphone, alternating her own face and his sister’s body into the lens. “Look. I love my sister to death. I don’t give a (expletive). This is the last thing I wanted to happen to us but it just did.”

What happened “to” them or what she brought on herself is the question. Sanchez, 18, was allegedly driving under the influence in California and filming herself on Instagram when she lost control of her 2003 Buick and it veered across lanes, then crashed through a fence and flipped over in a field. Two 14-year-old girls were in the back, not wearing seat belts. One survived.

The other, Jacqueline Sanchez Estrada, did not.

Police will determine, ultimately, what caused the crash. The courts will determine, ultimately, whether gross vehicular manslaughter and driving under the influence charges will stick.

But what the rest of us grapple with — at least those who worry for the future of our children — is how a teen faced with the worst thing imaginable, thinks first of talking into her cell phone and making sure it’s all being recorded.

Sanchez, who’d been filming herself driving while rap music played over the car speakers — at times she is seen singing along and taking her grip off the wheel to make hand signs — told a live Instagram audience after the crash, “I (expletive) killed my sister, OK. I know I’m going to jail for life, all right.”

She said this just a short distance from her sister’s body. The ability to think that clearly about her consequence yet be so confused about her priorities is stunning.

But it’s hardly new. Earlier this month, a group of 14- to 16-year-old teens laughed and mocked a disabled man drowning in a Florida pond — all the while filming it on a phone.

“We not fittin to help your ass!” one yells, while others yell, “You shouldn’t have gone in!” and “Bro’ drowning, what the heck, ha! … “

None of them called 911.

Which used to be a reason to carry a cellphone.

Not anymore. Our phones seem to increasingly exist as a way to let the cyberworld view what we’re doing every minute, perpetuating the warped idea that every breath we take is film-worthy.

Our self-fascination is endless. Last week, I was on an airplane, and through the space between the seats in front of me, I noticed a young woman holding up her phone and flipping the camera so she could see herself. She then fluffed her hair repeatedly, made sultry faces, and snapped away — for at least 20 minutes. On an airplane? Who exactly was that for? Someone later? Or — maybe more disturbing — just herself?

As the world moves toward one big reality show, you wonder if we’ll shift from being responsible for what we do to being responsible for what we watch. Those Florida teens may be charged with failure to report a death. In March, a 15-year-old girl was allegedly gang-raped while at least 40 people watched on Facebook Live. No one reported it.

A few months earlier, four Chicago 18-year-olds were seen beating and torturing a special needs man while streaming it on Facebook. You can watch them cutting his head with a knife, laughing and yelling “(Expletive) white people” and “(Expletive) Donald Trump” and turning the cameras on themselves.

There seems to be no shame — perhaps not even awareness — in committing awful acts before a cyber audience. Maybe an audience is the point. Maybe we’ve truly reached that cynical sentence from the movie “To Die For”, in which attention-obsessed Nicole Kidman says, “What’s the point of doing anything worthwhile if nobody’s watching?”

Obdulia Sanchez had people watching. Not a lot. Maybe just a few. Yet that was reason enough for her to broadcast herself driving and later to broadcast her sister’s final seconds on earth.

Even the most intimate kind of moment, saying farewell to a loved one, this teenager did with one hand on her phone.

“I love you, rest in peace, sweetie. If you don’t survive, baby, I am so (expletive) sorry. I did not mean to kill you, sweetie.”

She eventually turns the lens back on herself.

Babies have always been fascinated with their mirror images. Opportunistic programmers have now created apps that allow infants to easily snap selfies.

So it begins. And so it sometimes ends. Fourteen-year-old Jacqueline Sanchez Estrada, the subject of her sister’s video and victim of her crash, was about to celebrate her Quinceanera, a tradition that marks a girl’s transition into adulthood.

She never made it. You wonder, in our immature, self-obsessed world, how many of our children will.

Mitch Albom

Detroit Free Press

Mitch Albom is a columnist for the Detroit Free Press. Readers may write to him at: Detroit Free Press, 600 West Fort Street, Detroit, Mich. 48226, or via email at malbom@freepress.com.

Mitch Albom is a columnist for the Detroit Free Press. Readers may write to him at: Detroit Free Press, 600 West Fort Street, Detroit, Mich. 48226, or via email at malbom@freepress.com.