This powerful and unique documentary is a profound investigation into and meditation on the internet. Divided into ten chapters, each looking at a different aspect and featuring a key speaker who Herzog interviews in his inimitable style, asking questions that no-one else has thought of asking - such as 'Does the Internet Dream of itself'.
The film grew out of a commission Herzog was given to make a short YouTube video
'From One Second to the Next' about the dangers of texting and driving. Annually, one out of four car accidents in the US are caused by texting while driving.
This film is now required viewing for all new drivers in the US as part of the process of obtaining a driving licence.
A major internet company Netscout then invited Herzog to make a whole series of short films on other aspects of the internet. It was very quickly clear to Herzog that it should instead be a film larger in scope. Before examining the film itself in more detail, it is interesting to explore the several interviews available on a second disc about the making of the film and Herzog's attitude towards digital technology.
By and large, Herzog wants to examine the world his way and try and try and stay old-fashioned. "I live right here and, for cultural reasons I do not want to have a smart phone." He says he does use the internet sometimes for quick shallow information, sometimes sends e-mails, uses Skype to talk to his family and has a basic mobile for emergencies which he has rarely used. He likes to read.
As a result of this film he is now on the radar of younger people around the world who think his work has relevance for them. His other recent film 'Into the Inferno', a documentary on volcanoes, was released in 180 countries simultaneously in 2016 on Netflix.
He believes he has attracted attention on the web because people recognised that there was "somebody authentic out there" amongst all the very ephemeral. He is interested in the representation of the self on social media like Facebook. It's what he calls the "embellished self". People have set up social media sites under his name and there are many impersonations of his voice. Such media "trigger satire" but he is cool about it all. "I have a sense of humorous irony", he says. "These are very interesting times". When asked if he thought the Internet was lessening or widening our life experience he focused on computer and smart phone addiction which be believes to be an increasing problem. "It is known that it [gaming addiction] can be as severe as addiction to heroin". He wanted to go and film in China where they have rigorous boot camps for such addicts.
LO AND BEHOLD
As mentioned earlier 'Lo and Behold' is a film of 12 chapters, each focusing on interviews with key individuals in many fields. Interestingly, he says, for him, "it's always a conversation, never an interview". He never has a list of questions but acts spontaneously. His cast of interviewees are carefully chosen. "I have an eye for those who can get something across on the screen."
1. The Early Days: The film gets off to a grand start at the campus of the University of California, the ground zero of the internet revolution, with Leonard Kleinrock (internet pioneer) walking smartly down a corridor and unlocking the door of a room which has become a shrine. [They reconstructed the room 20 years ago with furniture hey wound in the basement].
Here he shows us the first piece of the internet - a minicomputer packet switch built to military standards. He opens it up to show us the modems, CPU, logic, memory, power supply. he says " It's ugly and beautiful with an old odour" From this room, the first ever message was sent over the Arpanet on October 29th 1969 to the Stanford Research Institute 400 miles to the north. The first message was meant to be LOG IN, transmitted one letter at a time, but the computer crashed on the G meaning the first word transmitted on the internet was LO.
2. The Glory of the Net is various aspects of the possibilities of big data, brining hundreds of thousands of people together to focus on problem-solving. We see a team of football-playing robots and learn something about driverless cars
3 The Dark Side: A weird Herzog episode. The surviving family of a young girl was killed in a gruesome accident and pictures of her decapitated head were sirculated on the web. The methoer says that she always believed the internet was a manifestation of the anti-Christ running through everybody on earth.
4 Life Without The Net is a profile of the people of Green Bank, West Virginia, home to the world's largest steerable radio telescope. Because it is so sensitive, there are no cell phones or Wi-fi in the locale./ It has become a home to many people who are suffering from conditions they believe are caused by microwave radiation. One women before she came to Green Bank was living in a Faraday cage.
5. The End of the Web focuses on the possible destruction of the internet due to the effects of massive solar flares, which happen every few hundred years or so, the last being the Carrington event in 1859. The interviewee is the remarkable looking Dr Lucianne Walkowicz, an astrophysicist and artist at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago who works on NASA's Kepler mission, studying starspots and "the tempestuous tantrums of stellar flares.". In the film she is wearing a full sleeveless Star Trek- style outfit, which reveals the tattoos on her arms, which are copied from prehistoric cave paintings (the subject of a previous Herzog movie, incidentally).
6. Earthly Invaders is about hacking and cyber security, starting at the Las Vegas Defcom event for the hacker community, attracting 20,000 visitors including members of the FBI, CIA and foreign secret services. The star of this segment is the world's most famous hacker Kevin Mitnik who spent five years in federal prison and now earns a lot consulting to companies on cyber security. He explains the weakest link: any one person in the company who can be tricked into releasing passwords and codes,
The other interesting interviewee is Sean Curry, a security analyst who works for Sandia, a corporation that, amongst other things, majors in cyber security and looking after nuclear weapons stockpiles. Sean keeps saying that he just can't tell us certain things but its clear that cyberwar is raging and we haven't even really noticed.
7. Internet on Mars features a interview with the legendary Elon Musk who, apart from founding PayPal, building the Tesla electric car company and the largest battery factory in the world, is also
planning to try and establish a colony on Mars. According to Herzog he is a complete introvert. When asked if he dreams there is a very long pause before he says: "I don't remember the good dreams. The dreams I remember are the nightmares." We then switch to meeting two brain scientists who work with MRI scans to map brain activity. "Does the internet dream of itself? Herzog artifully asks.
8. Artificial Intelligence: Here we see some advanced robots called CHIMP which are quite scary; they could have perhaps stopped the explosion at Fukushima. The interviewee says that robots are nowhere near the point where insects are. He says it will be a great day when we do. It is clear AI is bringing about a revolution in technology which will require a new theology, a shift in morals and a new definition of what it means to be human.
9. The Internet of Me: The move towards an environment in which every object is wired and the internet becomes invisible. One of the speakers claims that computers are the worst enemy of deep
creative thinking. We are living in a digital dark age because all our records will be lost.
10. The Future: We're back with the brain scientists who talk about the universality of an alphabet of human thoughts, a vocabulary that doesn't distinguish between things that are seen and things that are read. Its all one language. In the future, instead of having an MRI scanner costing $2 million and weighing 16,000 lbs, we might all be wearing EMG caps which we can use to tweet thoughts telepathically at the touch of a button.
The final quotes come from a scientist whose name escapes me. He says he refuses to make predictions for anything less than two trillion years from now. He says: "One of the wonderful things about the future is you don't know where it's going to go." Most predictions of the future miss the most important things, the Internet being a classic example. He believes that "becoming your own filter will be the challenge of the future because the filter is not provided for you. There's no control on the internet. No matter what governments do, no matter what industries do, the internet is going to propagate out of control and people will have to be their own controls".
He concludes: "Will our children's children's children need the companionship of humans or wull they have evolved in a world where that';s not important. It sounds awful doesn't it but maybe it will be find. Maybe the companionship of robots maybe the companionship of an intelligent internet will be sufficient. who am I to say?"