Does the internet dream of itself?
Herzog's Lo and Behold is brilliant — like much of his work- but he left the internet at home
I've just finished watching Werner Herzog's Lo and Behold — Reveries of The Connected World. Awesome, predictably. Its subject, however, was not quite what I expected.
I’ve been looking forward to watching it. A film about the internet, by one of my favorite filmmakers, combines the two universes I’ve orbited the most. As far as his recent documentaries are concerned, the film is classic Herzog: brilliant, weird, intense, unexpected, dark, frank.
Herzog discourses in an awkward place between childlike wonder and mischievous depth. He moves effortlessly between cynical comedy and stark tragedy, often both at the same time. His disconcerting frankness brings out raw emotions, surprising his interviewees first and foremost.
Lo and Behold is no different. There are several candid, memorable scenes: Elon Musk's nightmares; a robot maker’s love for his creation; Ted Nelson’s childhood memories and cute smartphone-obsessed monks.
That said, the film is not about the internet. How could its creator miss this?
Herzog is a Luddite, even if a philosophical one. His issue is with technology per se. Rather, his fascination with the dark corners of human nature — violence, madness, isolation — brings understandable skepticism on what we humans come up with. He says so himself, his thoughts on Emoji: "Let them keep smiling, I don't care."
It's no surprise that a Luddite would misdescribe technology, right? We're shown self-driving cars, robots, A.I, social networks, fracking, info sec, astronomy and what not. The common thread being not the Internet, but software. It just happens that nowadays all meaningful software is connected in some form. The Internet is too young to fade into oblivion , just like electricity was in its early years.
If the word Internet wasn’t part of the title, I’d be nitpicking, but alas, it’s there. About the internet, this movie is not. Nitpicking aside, this mishap is telling.
Everywhere you look, software is mediating our world: music, movies, communications, transportation, travel. Ev-ery-where. Yet, we still talk about the internet, apps, social networks. Software has many facets. Like electricity isn't about wires nor batteries, software about apps or the internet. It’s time we move forward. This is too important for us not to state clearly.
Lo and Behold: Software.
Software is at the center of the radical changes society has and will experiencing in the next decades. Since becoming cheap computing could be spare on less rational, more personal, endeavors. Mobile has made computing personal at last. Today software shapes how we live, relate, feel and express ourselves. We can’t afford to be confused or mystified by technicalities. Forget the Internet; software is a social phenomenon. Mudding the theme is a bad start. Hence I’m dotting the I’s here.
Back to the film: don’t watch it expecting deep insights on the internet. But do watch it. It’s a great movie about people and the society they inhabit. If anything, it’s a privileged view of how non-techies fantasize about the future of technology. Herzog is a master filmmaker who has claimed a very particular spot: weird yet familiar, dark yet hopeful. For all I care , he could make a movie about hamsters, and it would be just as good.