• 08/18/2016
    7:00 AM
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Contemplating The Internet's Impact On Society

New film examines society's reliance on the internet and the good and bad effects of global connectivity.

You don't expect to find a movie review on Network Computing, but a film produced by a networking company that examines the effect of the internet on society is an unusual event. “Lo and Behold: Reveries of a Connected World" by German filmmaker Werner Herzog, released in selected theaters and available for streaming Friday, provides a unique, thought-provoking view of technology.

The movie does not focus on technical issues, but considers some of the internet's origins and how society has become dependent on it. For hardcore technology fans, there are interesting tidbits such as the Interface Message Processor, an early predecessor to today's routers built at Bolt, Beranek and Newman (now Raytheon BBN Technologies). There's also an interview with an early pioneer of hypertext, Ted Nelson.

As with other Herzog movies, he narrates the movie himself, and his soft, somewhat detached manner provides more time for the audience to reflect. There is little direct lecturing, and it’s up to us to interpret what we see.

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(Image: Magnolia Pictures)

The film does not try to decide whether technology has had good or bad consequences or if it's evolved in the best way for society’s sake. Some results, such as the ability to disseminate photos of a gruesome car accident through the internet, are obviously distasteful. Other results, such as the prospects for widespread use of robotics, are simply provocative.

With society's heavy reliance on the internet, the movie looks at the potentially devastating impact a massive internet disconnection would have, with a comparison to the giant solar flare of 1859 known as the Carrington Event. Whether these failures come from nature, such as a solar flare, mischief, cyberwarfare from nation-states, or just plain errors does not matter, since the results may be just as dire.

The straightforward ways in which Herzog interviews eccentric people like Nelson almost reminds me of watching a mockumentary like Christopher Guest’s “Best in Show.” For those of us who deal with technology day to day, some of Herzog's questions such as whether the internet dreams of itself, seem silly. But rather than poking fun at the film, I would recommend letting it wash over you, and take it at face value. I bet many of you would have scoffed in the past if someone had predicted people would stare at the phones trying to catch imaginary creatures (think of Pokémon Go), so don’t make fun of the issues Herzog raises. As with most art, the secondary effects on your mind are more interesting, as this movie is not meant to solely entertain.

Herzog is a quasi-Luddite. He doesn’t use mobile phones unless absolutely necessary for emergencies. This form of detachment is almost refreshing, since he doesn’t gush about technological developments. He just shows them for what they are by stepping back.

What does this film mean for networking professionals? In a practical sense, little. We do our jobs based on business or academic needs and don’t think too closely on the consequences. But Herzog's film might provide more context to what you do, or at the very least provide some food for thought. The film's consideration of the potential dire consequences of network disruption serves as a reminder to be vigilant and underscores the importance of what networking pros do.

The movie was produced by network performance monitoring company NetScout, which is unusual. People from the technology industry have gone on to fund movies in Hollywood, but rarely do we see movies being produced by tech companies other than industrial movies or trade-show shorts. I applaud NetScout's courage in undertaking an effort with no obvious direct payback. I would like to see other tech companies produce movies that aren't extended infomercials, but serious, provocative movies like this one.

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