There are few things today as ubiquitous as the internet. Our daily lives are sorted and stored online in a variety of ways, and we have become dependent on electronic information. Whether this interaction between humans and the connected world we have created is good or bad is an open question that invites many interpretations. In Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World, the German philosopher/director Werner Herzog probes the depths of this relationship through a series of chapters that explore this cyber connectedness. One the one hand, he notes, the great potential and advances in scientific discovery that are beneficial to humankind. On the other, Herzog walks us through the part of the human realm that is lost or changed through this relationship.
Herzog’s inquisitive style offers a unique perspective on how this connectedness through technology is not only changing the way we do things, but also how it changes our thought processes, the way in which we create projects, communicate and even relate to each other at a basic level. Herzog takes us through these discoveries that quickly forces the audience to reflect inward in a process of a self-discovery that makes for an enjoyable ride that starts with the birth of the internet in the Stanford Research Institute. To be precise, in room 3420 of the Stanford Research Institute, a room that is as bare-bones as any research room in higher education would be. It is humble beginnings indeed for the digital revolution, but from there we move on to bigger and better.
The documentary also explores the world of big data and crowd-sourcing, where seemingly small inputs add up to create answers to complex problems that would not have been possible in the past. For instance, an interview with Adrien Treuille, an assistant professor of computer science and robotics at Carnegie Mellon University, lets us know that “the web” has helped in modeling the molecule. And that discovery has the potential for unlocking the puzzle of developing cures for other diseases.
In other interviews, we find out how self-driving cars work and the idea behind them from computer engineers Sebastian Thrun and Raj Rajkumar. Herzog also interviews Elon Musk in what can only be described as an eerie conversation, as Musk lays out his vision for life on Mars. In all, the journey takes us to deep and dark places including a moving interview with Nikki Catsouras’s surviving family. Catsouras passed away in a fatal car accident that was documented through someone’s phone pictures that were later leaked online and created an even more traumatic reality for the grieving family who were not able to neither escape the tragedy nor understand why anyone would want to intrude upon the privacy of the grieving.
Herzog also investigates addiction. He visits a place where he meets with a few teenagers who are recovering from their internet addiction. His probing questions are at first funny and then establish a rapport that allows the audience feel that empathy often missing in the online world, a connection that one can only feel when looking into someone else’s eyes and hearing the different inflections in their voice, as they cannot contain emotions in a neatly packed way. Following this line of inquiry, Herzog is also drawn to an “off the grid” community, where people look to recover from the physical malaise they receive from the wireless signals all around us, invisible to all but not without consequence to any.
There are many vignettes within chapters that are only connected through Herzog’s understanding of how the internet as a tool or an intimate part of our world is creating a different reality wherein there might be a conversation about what the essence of humanity is and what it may mean to each of us and then the sum of us to adopt these changes. As we are shaped by this new connectedness, Lo and Behold offers a moment to pause and look deep within to our own making of this new world and how we want to shape and delineate this new reality we are living, rather than accepting it wholesale. It’s a documentary packed with interesting questions, yet what is most striking about it is the many other questions that it raises among its audience. As Socrates once said, the unexamined life is not worth living. Lo and Behold opens a door to examine one of the bigger areas in our lives. Whether this is a positive or negative take on connectedness through technology; it is for each of us to decide what we take away from it and how to proceed on the many give-and-take choices we make daily.
Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World runs 98 minutes long and is rated PG-13. It opens in our South Florida area exclusively this Friday, Aug. 19, at the Bill Cosford Cinema. For nationwide screenings and to purchase tickets elsewhere please click here. We caught the film when Herzog was honored by AFI DOCS 2016 during the Charles Guggenheim Symposium at the AFI Silver in Silver Spring, Maryland.
(Copyright 2016 by Ana Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)