the documentaries that perfectly capture the age of the internet
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The Internet as we know it has been around for over two decades, and in that time, we've learned some pretty useful things: how to stream back-to-back episodes of Girls, how to download The Life of Pablo for free, how to share memes of Donald Trump being Donald Trump on our Facebook timelines. But, more than that, we've learned a new way of socializing, shopping, dating, and possibly even falling in love. And this is — literally — all at our fingertips. Today anyone with a screen and an internet connection can enter this remarkable realm.
Werner Herzog navigates this online wilderness in his new documentary Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World. Casting his net wide, the film raises questions like, "Will our great grandchildren need the companionship of humans or will they have evolved in a world where that's not important?" and, "Does the internet dream of itself?" It's an eccentric's take on the Internet, and it's instantly earned its place among the most thought-provoking docs to tackle the age of the Internet. Here are some others you need to see.
Hey, remember Napster? That file-sharing site where you'd spend 30 minutes downloading a Blink 182 song? It was the spark that ignited the downloading revolution, and it pissed a lot of people off. "Napster is stealing from us, straight up," says Dr Dre, "I'm gonna fight 'em till the death." Alex Winter's film is about the high school students who essentially brought one of the largest US industries to its knees. It's about the bands and businesses that were affected by the site's success (not least Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich, who wagged his finger fiercely in court), and its impact on the wider world. With contributions from Noel Gallagher, Beastie Boys, Henry Rollins, and more, this will fill you with a warm, fuzzy nostalgia for the Winamp era of online.
Terms and Conditions May Apply
No one has ever really read iTunes's full terms and conditions. Or Facebook's. Or Google's. One study, reported in this eye-opening documentary, suggests that if you did read them all, it would take you up to 180 hours every year. Basically, they're designed to put you to sleep, with their tiny font, their long words, their never-ending sentences. Why? So they can hide their real intentions, like selling your Instagram pics to advertisers without compensation. Perhaps the most terrifying clause included in many of these T&C's online: "We can change these terms at any time." Which effectively means they can do whatever the fuck they want. Terrifying, right? Something to make you think twice the next time you click that tiny box. And also: Who knew Moby was a 'digital rights advocate'?
Narrated by Keanu Reeves, in his best Neo from The Matrix voice, Deep Web examines the mysterious underworld of the so-called deep web, the hidden web realm in which the infamous Silk Road — an anonymous online black market — was born. It's kind of like Amazon, only you can buy drugs and guns and remain anonymous. It's all made possible by bitcoin, an untraceable 'crypto-currency.' And it's totally illegal. This film zooms in on the Silk Road's founder, Ross Ulbricht, aka 'Dread Pirate Roberts.' The Robert Pattinson lookalike was branded a digital drug lord by the media and was eventually caught by the Feds. But this doc aims to shift public perceptions of both him and the deep web, a world painted as shady and nefarious, even though journalists and dissidents have used it for good. If nothing else, the film is a fascinating primer on "one of the most successful entrepreneurs of the dot-com age." It also makes The Pirate Bay look like child's play.
If you thought your addiction to Grand Theft Auto was getting out of hand, watch Web Junkie, which opens with an alarming caption: "China is the first country to declare internet addiction as a clinical disorder, claiming that it is the number one public health threat to its teenage population." The film follows three teens in a rehabilitation center that hopes to cure them of their gaming addiction, specifically their addiction to World of Warcraft. The center is a Full Metal Jacket-style boot camp, everyone dressed head to toe in camo, a place in which 16-year-olds are held in what are essentially prison cells. They weep and scream, forced to pop pills like the patients in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Will it help their addiction or fuck them up for life?
TPB AFK: The Pirate Bay - Away from Keyboard
'AFK' is internet geek-speak for 'Away From Keyboard'. It's a term used by the three Swedish guys behind The Pirate Bay — Peter Sunde, Fredrik Neij, Gottfrid Svartholm — and it's something they bring up, smugly, in their trial with Hollywood and the media industry, who demand $13 million in compensation for all the illegal downloads facilitated by The Pirate Bay. That trial and the surrounding media mayhem forms the backdrop of this doc, which puts the rebellious spirit of the site's head honchos front and center. The three pale-faced nerds barely break a sweat when faced with these charges in court. Their response when emailed with angry cease and desist orders from Hollywood? "Please go sodomize yourself." It's a fascinating story and a window into one of the world's largest file sharing sites.
The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz
Aaron Swartz, a young Internet activist who hanged himself following a lawsuit in which he was labeled a felon, was always going places. He created a Wikipedia-esque site before Wikipedia existed; he came up with the RSS feed; and he co-founded Reddit. The latter catapulted him to internet stardom, but he hated the corporate hucksters who eventually bought his company. This film is about his prodigious talent and how it was quashed by the US government, who wanted to make an example out of him for downloading 2.7 million federal court documents. It will make you angry. Partly because the law is so outdated when it comes to the internet; partly because older generations — to put it simply — don't have a clue about its possibilities. Swartz did, and he thought he could use it for good. RIP Aaron Swartz.
A cautionary tale about Facebook friend requests, Catfish spotlights one of the biggest issues of the Internet age: identity theft. Aka, the idea that the girl you meet online is actually a bald 50-year-old man named Keith. Catfish is a first-hand account of such a story. And of course, reality eventually brings the elaborate fiction tumbling down in an extremely awkward confrontation. Like the famous New Yorker cartoon "On the internet, nobody knows you're a dog", Catfish is about the gulf between online and IRL, about preying on the gullible, about the real-life consequences to clicking 'accept friend request'. The tagline says it all: 'Think before you click.'
Text Oliver Lunn