The legendary Bavarian filmmaker Werner Herzog grew up without electricity, running water or a telephone in the aftermath of WWII. He made his first movies with a camera he stole from a school. Now 73, the director of dozens of features and documentaries, such as Grizzly Man and Aguirre, the Wrath of God, has focused his lens on the most important development in recent human history: the internet.
While it might be easy to imagine the German New Wave innovator as allergic to internet culture, Herzog approaches this subject with an almost gleeful curiosity. Lo and Behold: The Reveries of the Connected World is a sit-down with computer geeks, hackers and video game addicts; it’s part history of the modern communications explosion and part musing on what the future will look like, with colonies on Mars, highways lined with driver-less cars, and the inevitable catastrophe of a systems collapse.
Divided into four parts, Lo and Behold introduces us to a series of talking heads, each focused on rather specific topics. While billionaire space entrepreneur Elon Musk discusses the possible threat of artificial intelligence starting a war, famous hacker Kevin Mitnick waxes on how the biggest problem in security systems isn’t the technology involved, but the human element. In between and around such big-picture topics, Herzog also zooms in on soccer-playing robots and the possibility that we might be able to tweet our thoughts.
The overarching idea given by Herzog’s journey is that the internet is a reflection of humanity. Our creativity, ingenuity and ambition are just as apparent as our depravity, aimlessness and stupidity. One woman interviewed, whose family suffered heinous online abuse after their teenage daughter died in a horrific car crash, calls the internet a “manifestation of the anti-Christ.” While that sounds like an absurd religious exaggeration, who are we to doubt her? She’s been through hell, after all.
That episode highlights how we all experience this massive network that binds us together differently. Moreover, the combination of our various online identifies is becoming an ever-increasing part of our lives. Just as they are a source of pride, creativity and confidence; they will also be exploited, forgotten, or the means by which we experience fresh forms of old injustices. Toward the end of Lo and Behold, Herzog begins to question the internet not as an object of human history, but as its own entity. He references the war theoretician Clausewitz in asking: “Does the internet dream of itself?” While a few thinkers, such as physicist Lawrence Krauss, attempt an answer, none are exactly satisfying. What endures, rather, is the value of the question itself: The thought that musing on technology is, in a very fundamental way, the same as musing on humanity.
Lo and Behold: The Reveries of the Connected World is playing at the Lagoon Cinema.