In a Californian university, there is a room that has been preserved much as it had been decades ago; our guide, director Werner Herzog, describes it as a shrine. This is where the internet was first conceived, and the first computer that enabled that revolution in technology sits there, obsolete now and a museum piece, but unmistakably important as the start of something that nobody predicted would have the massive influence it did. We are told the first message sent over this form of communication: it was supposed to be the word "LOG" which the computer replying would say "IN", therefore, "LOG IN" and a sentence would be complete. However, the computer malfunctioned after two letters, so the first internet message was "LO" - as in lo and behold.
By this stage in his career, Herzog was becoming better known for his documentaries than he was his fictional work, or at least fictionalisations of true accounts, and inevitably he tackled the internet as a subject with this. It met with a mixed reaction, with "Tell us something we don’t know" a common response, but those who liked it liked it a lot, perhaps because they enjoyed hearing Herzog's indelible Bavarian accent intoning about something so modern. Naturally, that modernity was going to be passé sooner or later, so as well as a history lesson the film acted as a snapshot of something that was changing so fast it was difficult to keep up with it, and that panicky feeling that things were moving too quickly was a definite undercurrent.
This was divided into ten sections, which made you realise what a huge subject, or set of sub-subjects, the internet had turned into since its inception. Funnily enough for a Herzog project, it was not all doom and gloom, there was optimism here, but it was tempered by observing that the online world was a projection of humanity with all its benefits and drawbacks. When it was designed, it was accepted that in that small community that everyone was going to behave themselves, and the construction followed that polite, trusting format which alas was ripe for exploitation by those whose motives were less salubrious, therefore when it became popularised the problems with abuse and destruction were only exacerbated.
In one of the most memorable sections, the director spoke to a family whose daughter had died in a car crash, and at the scene someone had taken a photograph on their phone of her damaged body, which went viral on the net. As a consequence, the family were sent the image over and over, with offensive messages accompanying it, leading the dead girl's mother to believe the internet was an expression of the Antichrist when it was so easily exploited by the evil. Stories such as that did the medium's reputation no good whatsoever, so that the majority of those who can behave themselves are dominated by those who cannot, their online presence an extension and amplification of their personality, therefore if that personality is messed up that is what you spread around to infect others - the meme idea.
Then there are those allergic to wireless technology, a condition that is barely understood; Herzog talks with sufferers and they seem sincere, but one issue you may have with this would be that he barely scratched the surface of a number of topics that could have made perfectly decent documentaries on their own. He talked to a wide range of experts too, and many of them are optimistic, with the celebrated, some would say infamous, pioneer Elon Musk interviewed about taking the internet to Mars, yet a bunch of others expressing the notion that we could conceivably be adapting into a world where we could explore the universe without needing to leave a single room, we'd simply use the net which could pick up our thoughts and respond in kind. Herzog keeps asking about love, where is the place for that in technology, and is met with amused reactions, with one expert going as far as observing that in a few generations life will be spent almost entirely staring into screens: the internet addicts here offer the problems with that. A lot of food for thought, but undisciplined in the way that, well, the internet is.
Eccentric German writer/director known equally for his brilliant visionary style and tortuous filming techniques. After several years struggling financially to launch himself as a filmmaker, Herzog began his career with the wartime drama Lebenszeichen and surreal comedy Even Dwarfs Started Small. But it was the stunning 1972 jungle adventure Aguirre, Wrath of God that brought him international acclaim and began his tempestuous working relationship with Klaus Kinski. The 1975 period fable Heart of Glass featured an almost entirely hypnotised cast, while other Herzog classics from this era include Stroszek, the gothic horror Nosferatu the Vampyre and the spectacular, notoriously expensive epic Fitzcarraldo.