Writing in Motherboard, Alex Pasternack reflects on Werner Herzog's new ten-part, two-hour documentary in the internet, Lo and Behold: Reveries Of A Connected World. In vintage Herzog fashion, the film eschews any straightforward documentary or journalistic examination of the internet's history and social impact. Instead, Pasternack calls it a "poetic," impressionistic exploration of a handful of people who have shaped and been shaped by the internet. Here's an excerpt from the article:
The movie's many characters (mostly older white males), sit and recount and prognosticate in front of the camera about a lot of interesting things: this also somehow feels of the internet. Herzog is not so interested in what these people have done specifically or their business or political interests—we are mostly left to intuit or google that, or seek out films like Adam Curtis's All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace. Herzog is more interested in engaging people in a conversation, and in the sometimes Herzogian things they say and think. After the legendary hacker Kevin Mitnick regales the director with the story of one of his masterful computer thefts—his tool little more than "the gift of gab," Herzog blurts out, "but you didn't sell it— it was curiosity, it was sport!" Mitnick concurs. "No! Trophy!" Hacking is like filmmaking is like the internet. It's about fun, lulz, fascination, curiosity, adventure. The internet is people.
It was a visit to Ted Nelson on his houseboat that reportedly convinced Herzog this was more than a piece of sponsored content and was deserving of a full length film about this human dimension. Nelson, who is credited with coining the term hypertext (as well as hypermedia, transclusion, virtuality, and intertwingularity), was an early dreamer with an alternate model for the web's architecture, Project Xanadu, in which the links between webpages are far more visible. But as the web took off instead, Nelson's pursuit of the idea led some to dismiss him as crazy. "To us," Herzog insists on camera, "you appear to be the only one around who is clinically sane."
Nelson is so relieved to hear this that he collapses into his chair. "No one has ever said that to me before," he says with a big grin. Herzog thanks him and shakes his hand. Nelson pulls out his camera and snaps a photo.
Point being, the internet didn’t have to be the way it is. Too easy to forget that about all technology really. For all of the cloud and water metaphors, the internet is not actually fluid or free: it's physical, often with a heavy carbon and monetary footprint, and based on decisions made mostly by white men working with significant government funding, or venture capital funding, with good and sometimes gracious motives, and sometimes not necessarily good ones. In principle it's an un-owned entity, but there were moments there, for instance, where the internet or parts of it could have been patented or owned. (Imagine if the world wide web had been founded not by a researcher at a big government physics lab but by a precocious kid in his Harvard dorm room?) Think about that, and then remember that these days, the big companies that didn't get to invent the internet are still grabbing, consolidating, and walling in pieces of it.