Lo And Behold, Reveries Of The Connected World
Synopsis: Filmmaker Werner Herzog examines the past, present and future of the Internet and how it affects human interaction and modern society.
When scientists who wanted to share data amongst themselves created the Internet their network was limited to trusted colleagues. Security was implied, you are in once you are authorized; having their identities compromised was not a factor. Accountability was assumed amongst the peer group. Fast forward to the world wide web of today and we have an Internet riddled with all the defects you could shake a modem at: cyber warfare, trojan attachments, stolen identities, hackers, deep web black market, gaming addictions, isolationism, artificial intelligence and a potential community of autonomous robots who control humanity in a Jetsons-style future.
Artificial intelligence. Self-driving cars. Soccer playing robots who plot their own action in a game against opponents. The glee felt from the engineers who give their considerable skills and energy to creating these inventions is contagious. The advances and scope of what can be accomplished with networked machines is impressive. So, eventually my car will drive itself while I use the computer which I see holographically from my eyeglass looking mainframes and access with hand gestures? I can even voice command the car to take me to a drive through, order my lunch, then resume scheduled trip? Amazing.
Werner Herzog addresses this panorama of topics in his particularly deep philosophical manner with concern for the impact of humanity on Earth. This feature length documentary poses the question, “Does the internet dream of itself?” How appropriate for a documentary filmmaker who has delved in to so many facets of life that he is credited with having made a film on every continent. Where hadn’t he yet made a film then? In cyberspace!
The philosophical twists that Herzog applies to the range of social, business and political activity internet users engage in deepens the dramatics. His insistence that subterfuge and fraud are ubiquitous is a premise upheld by the living examples and testimonials of the film’s subjects. The theme stands heavily in the dark side of the world wide web’s characteristics; death and scandal, evil incarnating, potential solar flare annihilation. There are a few criminal aspects of the Internet that Herzog has left out, no doubt in the interest of being economical with the run time of the film. However, more noticeably absent in this narrative is any mention of romance online. Is it wrong of me to want Werner to narrate his views of modern dating culture?
The bleaker aspects of our connected world are patiently and authoritatively explained as a way to ward the viewer off of seeking personal experience. In much the same tone as he had on Grizzly Man, where Herzog warned that the tape of the bear mauling could only be heard by the viewers and never seen, here in Lo and Behold we are given a directive that some “unspeakably horrifying” subjects will not and should not be viewed or delved in to further. Achtung! Gruesomely perpetuated sharing of terror and tragedy is given a heart-wrenching example with the Catsouras family; the patriarch received emailed photos of his daughter’s decapitated head from the car accident site she was discovered at. Who would send a father such pictures? The deceased’s mother had a simple answer: Evil. The Anti-Christ at work online.
Apparently the Internet may potentially be eradicated in one massive solar flare. There is high drama in the World Wide Web. The vulnerability and fragility of this connected world to alteration from disruptions, blackouts, hackers or other human weak links is staggering. “Civilization is four square meals away from utter ruin,” we are warned by Internet law Professor Jonathan Zittrain; he is interviewed along with other academics that postulate the end of the web.
Accountability and security concerns are left up to each one of us as we plug in online; basically people are the weak link mucking up an otherwise astonishing platform of interconnectivity. That message is clear. What is notably missing from Lo And Behold were the aspects of the cyber world that have elevated humanity. The ability to be in touch near instantaneously with loved ones in far away places, the communication tools used correctly have revolutionized our relationships. Modern dating and the perpetual search for love are not topics that gain much traction in this film, depriving us of the potential entertainment value of Werner Herzog’s take on Tinder and the subsequent Wernerisms and Twertzogs that would follow.
Werner Herzog is known for his sweeping landscapes and outsized characters, his ability to zoom in to the particulars of large lives and allow us a view in to the microcosm of an otherwise macro subject. He does just this with the geography of the cyber world, until we are caught in the net ourselves. Will the Internet beget other networks, with underlying behavior and patterns of the original web? Will it have it’s own AI consciousness? Will it in fact “dream of itself”? Are we all destined to evolve away from human companionship and in to our own ego fed narcissistic dream worlds? Or will this all crash in one grand solar event? If nothing else, the transitory nature of existence and continued promise of rapid change are emphasized in the conclusion of this remarkable documentary.
Tags: artificial intelligence, cyberspace, hackers, internet, Jonathan Zittrain, Kevin Mitnick, Laurence Krauss, lo and behold, magnolia pictures, radiation sensitivity, radio astronomy, restart, robots, rosa costanza, self driving cars, solar flares, werner herzog, world wide web