In this documentary, Wener Herzog looks at the internet and its impact, from its humble beginnings (“Lo” is the first electronic message ever sent. It was meant to be “Login” but one of the computers crashed) to its potential as a tool for research, and a weapon of abuse.
The narrative is rather unfocused as it jumps between disconnected case studies, each one given a brief few minutes which doesn’t leave room for in-depth analysis. In one moment Herzog is interviewing the pioneers who created the first connected computers, who are remarkably still of working age, in the next he visits a family who were the victims of vicious online abuse after photos of their near-decapitated daughter circulated online.
Yet while it may not be a deep analysis of any one topic, it does draw attention to some of the less well-known consequences of our always on, always connected world, and asks some of the bigger questions thrown up by our data-driven age.
It shows us a remarkable online game set up by researches which asks players to design complex molecules for lab testing, using the resources of thousands to make much faster progress than scientists could alone. We meet the people with radiation allergies, who, since the boom in mobile phone signals in the 90s, have been forced to live in a remote cabin or suffer serious radiation sickness (before the location became available some of them had to spend their entire lives in a Faraday cage).
Then it looks to the future, including threats to cyber-security, the possibility of electromagnetic radiation from the sun wiping out the sum of human knowledge (the last comparable event was in 1859) and asks if the internet will ever be able to dream of itself, touching on the ideas explored at greater length by Max Tegmark. What results is a breezy tour of the highs and los of arguably the most significant invention in history, which manages to be engaging and thought-provoking in equal measure.