The German film director Werner Herzog is a unique character. He is famed for his documentaries that uncover the surrealism of life on Earth and he has turned his attention to the world of technology. Last night, his latest film “Lo & Behold: Reveries of the Connected World” premiered at the London Film Festival, bringing a fascinating yet haunting look at the internet’s impact on our lives.
The characters that Herzog finds in his films are equal parts geniuses, oddballs and tortured individuals:
A man on a house-boat who spends his time developing his alternative to the internet – described as “being like water flowing around your hand” – while his counterparts call him insane.
A community of people escaping wi-fi-caused ailments by flocking to the United States National Radio Quiet Zone around the Green Bank radio telescope in West Virginia.
A solemn Elon Musk, recounting that “he doesn’t have dreams; only nightmares.”
A family who view the internet as the devil after they were trolled with images from the scene of a daughter’s death.
Split into ten parts, sometimes vaguely described as “The Good Side” and “The Bad Side”, sometimes focusing on subjects such as artificial intelligence, the film seemed to linger on the negative aspects of the internet, whether intentionally or not. It was in one these lingering chapters – “The Internet of Me” – in which the film broached an idea which piqued my interest, and those he was interviewing: the egotism of a future internet.
The Internet of Things is changing our lives irrevocably by turning the internet from a tool for information and connectivity to one that focuses your environment to your needs. This self-focusing has already started with the echo chambers caused by Facebook’s algorithms, but the chapter took this idea and went further with it. The rooms in our houses will learn the type of lighting we want, our self-driving cars will drive at the speed we prefer, our hi-fi’s will know exactly what we want to hear when we’ve just come back from a hard day’s work (and it’ll know it was hard because the watch on your wrist will be tracking your heart rate). Everyone will have their own preferences. If a friend comes over for dinner, your house will acknowledge theirs as well as yours and find a happy medium.
This all sounds idyllic. But that’s from the perspective of those who have grown up in a world where technology hasn’t been able to give you the world you would like to exist in. We have had to deal with the bad as well as the good. The film asks us to imagine the first generation whose experience of the internet isn’t about connecting to a wider world; instead that experience will be with a wider world geared towards them. Everything will be filtered and tuned to their needs. It asks whether this would create a fundamental shift in people’s personalities; after all, if the internet is geared towards you, you must therefore be important. What are your needs? How should they be fulfilled? It hints at a future era epitomised by narcissism.
From here the film then cuts to a banjo band playing in the Radio Quiet Zone, Deliverance style. Maybe humans will always need companionship and empathy? But will it? “Who are we to say that our children’s children’s children won’t be happy with relationships with robots?” asks one interviewee. Indeed. Who are we to judge such a brave new world? It’s odd to us, but it’ll be the norm in the future.
The film doesn’t attempt to answer any of these questions, leaving it up to us to consider how technology will ultimately shape our lives. I’m optimistic, mainly because I think such developments are still a way off. Not too far, but still decades. And how do I know this? Because a computer has tried to recreate an episode of Friends by crawling the scripts and regurgitating it’s own scenes. It’s as ridiculous as you can imagine. I’ll leave you with this piece of internet gold to reassure you that, ultimately, computers won’t be taking over our society any time soon. And, even if they did, I reckon we could take them.
A Street, Chandler and Joey are kicking a can to each other.
So, Saturday night, Sat-ur-day night!
Can you believe she actually thought that?
Chandler are coming over to help me put together my new girlfriend, she wouldn’t be welcome in your future. How we doing, you guys. Hey, hey!
I could do that even comes close. Aruba, this time of year.
If you don’t ask her out soon you’re going to end up stuck in the third.
didn’t quite hear you.
Your ex-boyfriend Fun Bobby?
Carol Good shake. Yeah . The word you’re looking for an answer more sophisticated than ‘to get you into bed’.
But my mom always makes them.
If you want to chat about Werner Herzog’s odd films, or anything else in this post, email firstname.lastname@example.org.