DOCUMENTARY REVIEW: Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World


2016 Chicago Critics Film Festival selection


Leave it to renowned filmmaker Werner Herzog to hit you with a buffet's worth of food for thought.  His musings on the origins of the internet and its growing ramifications, both positive and negative, on this modern world are sternly served in his new documentary "Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World."  Scintillating one minute and sobering the next, this film is required viewing for anyone who has seen how far we've come with connectivity and wonders fearfully just how high this Icarus of technology can fly towards the Sun before it melts and crashes back to Earth. 

Laid out in ten carefully curated chapters, Herzog chronicles distinctive and nonlinear touchstones in each sequence.  The film begins at the University of California where the first semblance of the internet began in 1969 between programmers there and in Stanford.  The humble room where the first connected computers operated is now a minor shrine to history.  The film fast-forwards to the present day where the students and professors at Carnegie-Mellon University are designing and creating wirelessly-enabled autonomous cars and soccer-playing reports.  The first two chapters show future an flourish with a leap from its beginnings to its ever-moving present.

After the second chapter, the third through sixth chapters peel back the beauty and show a little-seen darkness that comes with so much riding on the internet.  The jubilation of wonderment begins to be intentionally tarnished and called into question by small stories of reality outlined the harmful effects of the internet and its scope.  We learn of the lawlessness of the internet through a family plagued by a gross misappropriation of privacy right, witness the uncommonly-seen medical maladies like game addiction and radiation overexposure, and interview noted hacker Kevin Mitnick.  Lastly from this thematic streak, using the microcosm of Hurricane Sandy as an example, key astronomers explain how it is a matter of if, not when, solar flares from the Sun or other natural disasters have the potential to wipe out the planet's network circuitry of our preciously connected world.

These chapters are sharp segments that build on one another and never overstay their welcome.  They hit hard an deliver strong messages, like a stiff jab to our consciousness, one that we had coming.  Credit Herzog for diving deep and investing personal attention into this essay-like documentary.  The filmmaker follows his arduous middle section with an ending four chapters pointed back towards an ambitious future that is aware of the cautions shown before.  Elon Musk and his Space X project is profiled, in addition to examples of tweeting Buddhist monks, life-saving robotics, and other new products that tap into the most specific of human personalization.

"Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World" is an engrossing documentary that hits its points home and instigates deep personal reflection, just as an excellent documentary should.  It rightly raise your antenna and invades your fears, especially for adults who fondly remember our time and society before the advent of the internet.   As a collected effort, Herzog's film offers an appropriate plea for temperance to pair with our enjoyment and optimism while living in a world next to this technology's seemingly never-ending growth and potential.  For the education community, this might be a documentary you see in high school and college classrooms for a long time.

LESSON #1: TECHNOLOGY IS BORN FROM HUMAN AMBITION-- Every single human invention, from the simplest tool to the most complex device, comes from human ambition to do something it cannot naturally do.  Every bit of code, the design of every circuit, and every new invention comes from human thinking and creativity.  There is a beauty to be found in that, but one that will always be imperfect (see next lesson). 

LESSON #2: PEOPLE ARE THE WEAKEST ELEMENT OF TECHNOLOGY-- No matter how efficient a particular tool, invention, or technological creation operates, it is still created and run by fallable humans.  Let Kevin Mitnick story highlight this lesson the most.  We have reached a point where technology can think and solve faster than our own minds.  Tech errors are an illusion.  From artificial intelligence to newest cell phone, any potentially catastrophic breach or flaw comes from human error.  

LESSON #3: EMBRACE POTENTIAL WITH CAUTION-- It is perfectly fine to let the doom-and-gloom portions of "Lo and Behold" resonate with you.  It needs to.  Society may never catch up with governing the necessary accountability, safety, or security of technology's reach into so many elements of our daily lives.  That means each person has to be responsible for their use of our connectivity and should use any and all of it with caution.  You have to filter yourself and control your dependence.  You can't wait for society to do it for you.