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Review: Diving deep into scary wonder of the internet

Tom Long
The Detroit News

The internet is good. The internet is bad. Does it even matter? Because the internet, in all its awful and magnificent complexity, simply is, and the past is doomed to remain forever the past.

This is the basic, and at times chilling, approach of director Werner Herzog’s “Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World.” Herzog obviously believes we’ve lost something, but he’s also willing to believe we’ve gained something. Just what that is, though, it’s too early to say.

Herzog begins at the University of California at Los Angeles, where the roots of the modern-day internet were born, when a computer there tried to connect with a computer at Stanford. The first two words UCLA planned to send were “Log in”; the Stanford computer crashed before the g could make it. Thus the “Lo” in “Lo and Behold.”

From there Herzog talks to all manner of theorists and groundbreakers, hackers and engineers, in separate chapters, about the future of the internet and the future in general. He shows how the internet can be used for good, as when thousands of gamers unite to help figure out RNA sequencing. All it takes to show the dark possibilities is an interview with a couple who have incessantly been e-mailed pictures of their decapitated daughter with vile comments attached.

He ponders whether the internet dreams of itself. He talks to an astronomer who says that sooner or later a major solar flare – this is a matter of when, not if – will destroy the internet, and since most of our commerce and food supplies are tied to it, billions will die and civilization will crumble.

So that’s fun.

Herzog explores robots, the few people who live off the grid, the chilling threats of cyber espionage — prescient in light of Russia’s recent hacks — and the possibility of life on Mars, which he balances with an appeal to treat Earth decently.

It’s fascinating, scary (so scary), interesting stuff. Herzog even wonders if humans will eventually develop closer relations with the internet than with other humans.

Then at one point he shows a bunch of monks walking about, all looking down at their phones. Maybe we already are.

Tom Long is a longtime culture critic

‘Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World’

GRADE: B+

Rated PG-13 for brief strong language and some thematic elements

Running time: 98 minutes