Forty-seven years ago (October 29, 1969 to be exact), the first ARPAnet (later to be known as the Internet) link was established between UCLA and SRI. Twenty-eight years ago, Tim Berners-Lee circulated a proposal for “Mesh” (later to be known as the World Wide Web) to his management at CERN. Together, they have so far connected more than a third of the world’s population and have made millions of people both new consumers and new creators of information. It’s a wonder and it’s a minefield, and it’s also the subject of tonight’s film by the inimitable Werner Herzog, LO AND BEHOLD.
Guardian writer Peter Bradshaw calls the Internet “a second industrial revolution” in a review of the film, going on to emphasise that it is a revolution that has been achieved without the pollution of the first, but with a very different, potentially scary scenario at play. It may have unlocked incredible creative energy around the globe and revolutionised communication, but it has also given a huge platform to hatred, created addictive narcissism, and encouraged big business to entrust vital services to digital control and remote management, leaving them horribly vulnerable to hacking, vandalism and the like.
The Internet is also pretty fun and often ridiculous, and I have to admit that when it first arrived in my life I wasn’t really utilising the World Wide Web’s power to its best advantage. I was looking at the likes of Chihuahua Kingdom – a blog about tiny puppers that turned out to have very sinister undertones – and Rotten.com, a particularly vile website full of crime scene photos and the like that at the time, was hugely fascinating to almost everyone I knew. Why? God knows, it’s embarrassing to admit that I spent time looking at it to be honest, and even worse when I hear that stories of people like the Catsouras family and what they endured at the hands of websites just like that and the trolls who lurk in their shadows.
Herzog features their story as one of many over the course of ten chapters, and it was probably the element of the film that had the biggest impact for me. On October 31, 2006, a young woman named Nikki Catsouras, 18, took her dad’s Porsche down California State Route 241 at 100 miles per hour. As she tried to pass a slower vehicle, she lost control and crashed horribly. First responders were greeted with a gruesome scene, which they photographed, sending the photos to two dispatchers. Hideously, these dispatchers thought to share the horrific images with their mates. They forwarded them via email, and soon enough the images of Nikki found their way to sites featuring gruesome images of death. But it didn’t end there. Some sicko then made a fake Myspace page for the girl, sending the grieving family photos of Nikki, often with messages attached. “Woohoo Daddy! Hey daddy, I’m still alive,” one said.
Herzog also addresses the subject of Internet addiction, speaking to those who work at the coalface as rehab specialists and former obsessive gamers who are in recovery, and the potential impact of AI. In one of the freakiest moments in the film for me, we learn about a system that uses an MRI scanner to essentially read your thoughts, regardless of what language you speak. The scanning data is combined with software that maps patterns of electrical activity in the brain to specific concepts. It goes on to explain that in the future it’s likely we’ll have lightweight personal brain activity monitors, which opens the possibility for brain-to-brain wireless communication – i.e. telepathy. Jesus wept! If it all turns to shit, Elon Musk offers up the option of joining him on Mars, but after seeing him interviewed in the film, I’d think twice about taking him up on the offer.
In conclusion, the film is an interesting watch, and the fact that a self-confessed luddite like Herzog has tackled the most complex of subjects gives it an added layer that might not have appeared in the hands of another director. It’s not flawless, but Herzog investigates the Internet in his own entertaining way with some interesting outcomes.
LO AND BEHOLD premieres Thursday 13 July at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel
Click here to watch the trailer
Click here to remote record