There’s a little town in West Virginia that has become a haven for digital refugees, a population displaced by the crush of data delivered through our connected devices. And it is the unlikely hero of Werner Herzog’s latest film LO AND BEHOLD: REVERIES OF A CONNECTED WORLD.
Screened at the Vermont International Film Festival in October, LO AND BEHOLD was served up as a tasty discussion piece to a packed house of Burlington’s tech enthusiasts at the Main Street Landing Film House. The 10-part film captures a comical, askew survey of the Internet as it has come to be known, as it is described through the experiences of its pioneers and users, skeptics and victims.
The screening was organized by BTV Ignite, the city’s effort to join marketing and entrepreneurial efforts with other “gig” cities (those boasting a gigabit or more fiber optic network) and half a dozen partners including Burlington Telecom.
Back to Green Bank, that little town in West Virginia. What’s interesting is that this bucolic radio free zone is given the closing shot, featuring a Vermont-style folk jam intended to celebrate the good ol’ human values of hanging together. Green Bank’s existence however depends on the presence of the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope, the world’s largest of its kind, pointed ever heaven-ward in search of extra-terrestrial life.
To probe the depths of space, the telescope requires zero microwave interference. In other words, to look for communication from far, far away it must ban all local cell calls. And wifi. And spark plugs.
Herzog is empathetic to his subjects, who range from hacker legend Danny Hillis to zillionaire Elon Musk. Sprinkled throughout are moments eerie and comical – a cultish family victimized by callous and relentless online sharing; a duo of physicists asked to contemplate whether a powerful enough connected computer could dream of itself; a giddy Carnegie Mellon roboticist who sheepishly confides love for his creation.
All of the investigations in LO AND BEHOLD ultimately come back to us: who are we and why are we here?
The VTIFF evening concluded with a panel discussion led by Vermont Tech computer science prof Craig Damon. About a third of the packed screening stayed and sustained a conversation that spanned social media in our lives to artificial intelligence, the role of algorithms and a “right to an explanation” to security in the age of connected devices.
One message was clear from the evening: Vermonters love our banjo-picking folk jam as much as the next West Virginia town AND we’re keen to engage our connected future.
As more and more creative enterprises call the Green Mountains home, the Vermont Media Alliance invites feedback: what are the ways we can advance a tech-savvy agenda while preserving those gifts that make Vermont a great state to create? Talk back to us at firstname.lastname@example.org