The internet is omnipresent in a large part of the world, although the rest of the world’s population (over half) doesn’t have/access the Internet. In 1969, the first message was sent from one computer to another between University of California and Stanford and instead of ‘Log in’ the word ‘Lo’ went through. This unleashed a world of connectivity that had never been seen before. Interestingly, and the film points this out, in all our visions of the future, in all our ideas of what the future would bring – flying cars, people eating pills for food, time travel, contact with aliens, space cities – no one ever, not once thought that this thing called the Internet would be dominating our world the way it does today.
Werner Herzog’s new documentary Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World is a story of rapid world domination: how the internet moved from one click on a computer screen to the most powerful tool we have at our disposal today. The film moves through different stages of the evolution of the Internet, told episodically, speaking to pioneers like Bob Kahn and Vint Cerf and many other great inventors and contributors who have worked behind the scenes to bring the Internet to life. From the living room of a small town family somewhere in Allahabad, India to the portal that now runs the International Space Station, this truly has been a world changing phenomenon.
While Herzog speaks to the wonderment of this great human enterprise, a portion of the film is dedicated to the human, the tragic side of this revolution. One of the most touching stories was the car crash of a young woman Niki Catsouras, which was followed by the pictures of her disfigured head from the crash being circulated across the cyber world. The harassment the family suffered had Niki’s mother terming the Internet ‘evil’.
Herzog interestingly doesn’t lead the audience to any conclusions. He seems to sit back and have us follow this evolution. The documentary, though informative, doesn’t find time to critically engage with how ‘information’ and its movement has made our world less informed. This is left for us to deduce from emotional and technological anecdotes.
The unlimited exchange of information and the intricate web of users stretches the expanse of our planet; however, there are billions of us who still have no access to it, or others who suffer from health afflictions caused by radio and electric waves, with only far flung sanctuaries serving as escapes. This reminded me of a Hollywood natural disaster movie, where people are running as far away as they can from a cyclone, a tornado.
Most people who can look into the future envision a world where humans will become less relevant. As information and technology continues to take over our world, the ‘disconnect’ between humans might be the only consequence of this connectivity. But after going through Herzog’s tale of the Internet’s inception less than half a century ago, all I could wonder was, what if the Internet never happened or was to disappear in a jiffy? Where would that leave the world and its future? I am sure you can find an answer somewhere in the world of the Internet.