The newly released documentary, “Lo and Behold: Reveries Of The Connected World,” directed by filmmaker Werner Herzog, illustrates the wondrous and surprising impact of the rise of the Internet in an informative and humorous way.
The film is structured as a series of vignettes, in which interviews with many famous technological pioneers take viewers through the past, present and future of the Internet. People interviewed include Elon Musk (best known as the founder of Tesla Motors and SpaceX); professors at Stanford, Carnegie Mellon, and Harvard, and one of the world’s most famous hackers, Kevin Mitnick.
“Lo and Behold” is a balanced portrayal of the Internet, although it does not have the time to explore many concepts in much depth in its one hour and 38 minutes. Nonetheless, it offers a comprehensive introduction to the Internet via a series of conversations which explain complex issues in everyday terms.
The movie didn’t try to overwhelm or impress the audience with the science and technical aspects of the Internet. Instead it was more of an introduction to the Internet. As a result, it would be most interesting for technological neophytes and anyone curious about technology, so it was not surprising the theater was full.
The filmmaker skillfully injects humor into some heavy topics, but his presence at times overwhelmed the movie. Several times Herzog interrupted the person he was interviewing at a critical juncture in the conversation, creating an amusing moment. At other times, his humor was embarrassingly nerdy.
In spite of these drawbacks, the film proved to be inspirational and thought-provoking as it explored the current and future possibilities of the interconnected world.
The movie starts by taking us back to October 1969 when the first Internet communication occurred. This was not an auspicious event— only the “L-O” of the word “LOG” was entered into the first internet device before it crashed. It then illustrates the benefits and drawbacks of our technological interconnectedness in today’s society.
For example, it shows how online educational websites open up educational opportunities to a broad array of students around the world. A Stanford class that attracted 200 students was offered via an online website to the 160,000 students that signed up. There were over 400 students that performed better than the very selective student body that attends Stanford University.
On the opposing side, the film also depicts the downsides of the Internet. The filmmaker interviews two teenagers who explain that virtual reality can take over and become the reality of your life.
In extreme cases, some kids forget to eat and starve to death or lose limbs due to lack of movement. In addition, because the Internet relies on electronics, it is explained that solar flares could significantly disrupt the Internet and therefore the very basis of how we live, particularly as more and more of our everyday devices rely on the Internet to operate.
Finally, hackers are an ever-present threat, although ironically it was explained that the ability to persuade people (not code-cracking capabilities) is what makes a hacker most successful.
The final portion of the movie is devoted to exploring the future of the Internet. It investigates the possibilities of going to Mars, of robots developing enough intelligence to think independently, and of humans being able to communicate telepathically.
The film also expresses worries about humans retaining the ability to think critically and conceptually in the face of the increasing abundance of information.
In spite of certain shortcomings, “Lo and Behold” lives up to its name by offering a surprisingly entertaining and inspirational view of the evolution of the Internet in the modern world.