The documentary “Lo And Behold: Reveries Of The Connected World” recently became available for home viewing. We became interested in the film because NetScout originally commissioned it and enlisted none other than Werner Herzog to direct it. Acquired by Magnolia Pictures earlier this year, the film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. Here is our review of “Lo And Behold: Reveries Of The Connected World”.
The original focus was supposed to be the “Guardians of the Connected World,” about the people who keep networks up and running. The documentary starts by paying homage to the creators of the “Internet” and touches very briefly on the complexities of running large networks. However, Herzog then takes the film in a sociological direction, analyzing the Internet’s current and potential impacts on society.
The film begins with Leonard Kleinrock providing a tour of the room at UCLA that serves as the birthplace of the Internet – a “holy place” as he calls it. He later shows some of the math behind packet networks (that he helped develop), ostensibly to show viewers that this stuff is indeed difficult. However, his discussion of the “law of large numbers” and how larger networks behave predictably somehow makes it all seem too simple.
Herzog, who narrates the documentary, comments about how the Internet has now permeated everything. Today, he says, “If we were to burn CDs of the worldwide data flow for one single day and stack them up to a pile, this pile would reach up to Mars and back.”
At this point he asks what seems to be the central question of the documentary: How do we keep it running? How do we guard it?
Yet the rest of the documentary focuses not on how but what: What are the sociological implications of the Internet? Herzog depicts the “glories” of the Internet, such as driverless cars and the success of a video game called Foldit, where users contribute to science by folding proteins.
He also shows the “dark side” of the Internet, with a crime against a family that is unspeakably heinous. Herzog then delves into Internet addiction as well as people who believe their health is negatively impacted by wireless radiation from cell towers.
In addition, the documentary explores the potential causes of the end of civilization, precipitated by a manmade or natural disaster (e.g., solar flares). The idea is that we are now so dependent upon technology that disrupting or destroying it will also obliterate us – even if that giant meteor doesn’t.
“If the Internet shuts down, people will not remember how they used to live before that…modern civilization would collapse,” says Lawrence Krauss, a cosmologist for Arizona State University.
Jonathan Zittrain, an Internet scholar at Harvard University, makes the consequences of a technology collapse more tangible: “Food networks are hugely dependent upon being able to route digitally what the needs are and where. We don’t have warehouses near people stocked to the brim with food.” As the saying goes, he says, “Civilization is about four square meals away from utter ruin.”
Computer scientist Danny Hillis observes that if a catastrophic event occurs, our present time will be known as a “digital dark age.” All digital records will be lost. “We can see the writings of our Founding Fathers…we have their letters to each other for instance.” However, if something happens to our digital assets, no one will know how the Internet was created, because it was all done via e-mail. “How will future generations know what we were all about?”
The section about cybersecurity addresses the need for “guardians” more than any other part of the film. Herzog interviews former hacker Kevin Mitnick, who shares a few stories about how easy it was for him to thwart security protocols and get information. “People are the weakest link in security,” he says, “not the technology.”
Herzog also explores the future: The quest to establish a base on Mars (interviewing Elon Musk, of course) as well as create artificial intelligence that thinks and acts like humans. Kleinrock appears again to equate the future of the Internet to electricity. It should act as a utility he says; it will be pervasive in our lives and embedded in everything (rooms, fingernails), but it will be something we don’t even think about.
While interesting, those of us who work in this field all know that the network is not a utility, and is far from it.
Krauss makes an interesting point about the future towards the end: When you look back at science fiction through the years (flying cars, rocket ships), “They always missed the important stuff…They missed the most important thing about the present world, which is the Internet itself; no one predicted the Internet.”
All in all, for those of us in the high-tech field, there is probably nothing earthshattering here. We do recommend seeing it for Herzog’s filmmaking style and additional insightful commentary from some of the experts. The ending alone leaves you wondering if perhaps technology is not – or should not be – so vital after all.
Of course, we would have loved for the film to be more about the real guardians of technology as NetScout originally intended. Still, if the goal of the documentary is to convince everyone that we all have a responsibility to better guard the technology we have become so dependent upon – at least our individual assets and identities – then maybe it will be a success.
What did you think of the film? We’d love to hear your reactions.