|"Have the monks stopped meditating? They all seem|
to be tweeting."
by Cynthia Stead, capecodtimes.com,
14 July 2016
View the official trailer here.
The best thing about going to an event like the Maine International Film festival is seeing films that you would otherwise never have a chance to view. “Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World” is an exploration of the Internet from its inception in California to its incarnation as a worldwide phenomenon that will change human institutions as much as the steam engine, airplane, and the taming of fire did.
Narrator Werner Herzog takes us to the obscure cubicle at UCLA, where the first Internet communication went all the way to Stanford University a few miles away. Even then, a system glitch truncated the message from LOG to LO, creating the first lost email, and giving the film its title, Lo and Behold! They are all proud of the system they helped create, and are enthusiastic about its potential to change commerce, human contact, and societies. From Amazon to Wikipedia to Match.com, we are already aware of and participating in this new world, but we rarely reflect upon how new it is and how untested its impacts.
Herzog talks with early ARAPNET pioneers. One held up the 10-page mimeographed directory containing the name and address of everyone online at the time along with their email contact info. To reproduce such a directory now, if the list were burned onto CD’s and stacked one upon another, the pile would reach to Mars. And back.
The benefits are easily listed. Convenience, knowledge, opinion, and information are immediately available – perhaps too much so, as we rarely try to learn the context of a fact anymore when they are so easily located and mentally disposed of. There are other potential problems with the Net’s ubiquity as well.
There are some people deliberately living in the 100-square-mile blackout of all smartphone and Internet signals in the National Radio Quiet Zone in Green Bank, West Virginia, a U.S. research facility trying to send and receive messages from space. They spoke of the microwave intolerance that their bodies had, a little defensively, trying to explain how the soup of technology engulfed them and caused them pain and illness. They seem used to being treated like crackpots wearing tin-foil hats, but their problem seemed plausible to me – no more mysterious than an inability to tolerate gluten or pollen.
I was reminded of a meeting years ago at PAVE PAWS, a missile and satellite tracking facility at the Upper Cape base, back when activists were demanding a study of the effect of "side lobes," the radiation which bounces off the main beam back to the ground and its effect on breast cancer. We were shown a chart demonstrating the varied strength of common microwave signals – police towers, microwave ovens, cell towers, etc. – and were told that the side-lobe radiation of the base ranked near the bottom.
Of course, the Air Force official giving the talk casually mentioned that while the effects of all these individual transmissions on humans had been tested for safety, as far as he knew there had never been any measurement of the cumulative effect of ALL of these radiations crisscrossing around us. Even now, there may not have been such a study done and these people sheltering in West Virginia may just be a canary is a more high-tech coal mine.
The emotional effects of interconnectedness are harder to measure, as we are simultaneously in a stronger surface connection with more people and yet further isolated in the digital stream. You see the results of this every day in politics, society, and interrelationships. We are increasingly shown only data streams that reinforce our predetermined ideas and biases and find it harder to penetrate into the streams and ideas of others. So taking the time to watch a film like this is a way to reboot our assumptions, and do the very thing that the Internet makes supremely difficult to do – pause and reflect.
Cynthia Stead of Dennis may be emailed at email@example.com.