By James [email protected]
Back in the early 90s, The New Yorker printed a single-panel pasquinade drawn by Peter Steiner, which featured a computer-savvy canine sat a desk, chatting to another who listened from the floor below; “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog” read the accompanying caption. Wryly indicative of the anonymity afforded to all those who surfed the web, its publication also held a wider significance – symbolically denoting society’s growing fascination and developed understanding of the internet; no longer was it a tool exclusively available to academics and government employees.
Lo and Behold, director Werner Herzog’s dark and discursive new documentary, ruminates on how our ever-growing reliance on digital forms of communication has affected our lives in the present, and could continue to change them, for both better & worse, in the future. Over the course of ten self-contained chapters, Herzog untangles the truths of the technological age, reflecting, with unsettling candidness, on how the lines between our physical and digital lives have begun to blur.
Herzog is no stranger to the topic of how humans connect & interact, and the film shares something of a spiritual kinship with the director’s ’71 documentary Land of Silence and Darkness. Here he ponders not only on how such autonomy to interact with others online can set you free, but also how it can hold you prisoner. In one of the most striking sections, we are introduced to a household who were tormented by cyberbullies following the highly-publicised death of a family member, and in another we meet a woman whose life has been fundamentally ruined by a prolonged exposure to the radiation emitted from cell phone towers – although perhaps the most frightening & universally relevant aside comes later, as we observe the addictive dominance of online gaming.
Interviews – each conducted with the director’s distinctively dramatic staging and eccentric manner – with the likes of Leonard Kleinrock and Elon Musk, meanwhile, take us on a journey from the birth of the net in a university lab, to the surface of Mars, where Musk soon plans to establish a human colony in order to help preserve the survival of our species. Throughout, we’re accompanied by Herzog’s meditative narration, which retains delightfully droll shades of wit – describing the UCLA corridors as “repulsive” – and crucially, given the bleak connotations drawn in the conclusion that suggests we are on the brink of an era where electronics have so much control they could rob us of our identity, avoids a pessimistic tone. The density of the ‘tech talk’ may be disparaging to some, particularly in the film’s earlier segments, but the message will be clear for all to hear; we may understand this Connected World, but we may never be able to comprehend the power it holds over us.
Lo and Behold: Reveries Of The Connected World is on DVD and Bluray from Monday 5th December.