When Werner Herzog makes a film about the internet, it can almost be expected to be a poetic journey rather than a cutting-edge report or a deeply opinionated perspective (even though, with his very special style to interrupt interviewees to make a point in his narrative, this does not mean that this film would not have a personal perspective; it’s just that he does not conclusively articulate what he thinks about the internet).
This is the beauty and the message of this 2016 film: Herzog collects a range of perspectives on the internet, carefully arranged in ten topical chapters, and leaves it to the viewer to make up their opinion. And it is of incredible value in a society where it is all too easy to just jump on the “technology solves anything” bandwagon or to simply condemn all technology as evil and dangerous: (internet) technology is not a given, it is man-made, and it is our choice how we want to shape its application and what role we want to give it in our societies.
Reportedly a very limited user of digital technology himself, Herzog takes us along to explore the wide and multifaceted world of technology, where all kinds of remarkable and fascinating individuals go about their lives: we meet technology enthusiasts who get all worked up over fascinating past or future achievements computer technology brought along, but at the same time we also encounter those who suffer from its existence every single day. And – in my personal perception maybe the deepest message – we meet physicists who in simple words explain how all technology on earth, and our technology-reliant lifestyle with it, could be rendered useless at any point if the uncontrollable yet ultimate source of our lives, the sun, sends another of historically documented flares of radio waves our way.
I believe this thought-provoking film would be a wonderful starting point for any discussion on the role of technology in the world, on design, on human values and on the impressive achievement of mankind that is the invention of computers and the internet – for example in an educational digital literacy context. And this is not in spite, but because, the fact that Herzog does not clearly take a side: he provides a range of perspectives to look at the internet, and ultimately allows the viewer to make up their mind – maybe in a different way than when only looking at things from their own experience or from within their individual filter bubble.