Tuesday, January 26, 2016

In Park City ’16: ForEveryone.net

Sir Tim Berners-Lee did not invent the internet. That was sort of Vint Cert and Bob Kahn and kind of Xerox PARC. Berners-Lee created the World Wide Web. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. It’s often abbreviated “www.” More than anyone, he is responsible for making the net navigable and maintaining its orderly growth. Jessica Yu profiles the internet pioneer and solicits his take on the state of the web in the thirty-five minute documentary ForEveryone.net, which screened for invited guests and media during festival season in Park City.

Berners-Lee OM KBE FRS, etc is not a household name, but that is largely by design. He will do the periodic Ted Talk, but he is not a media attention seeker. As the child of computer scientists, it was apparently in his genes. Fortunately, he was at CERN, Europe’s largest internet juncture, just when people were starting to think about networking and hypertext in conjunction with each other. Berners-Lee really got it and envisioned the resulting user-friendly architecture.

Frankly, it is strange nobody has given Berners-Lee the documentary treatment sooner, because his enthusiasm is quite appealing on screen. His tribute during the London Olympics’ opening ceremony should have also intrigued potential viewers. He was there, driving some pretty critical scientific and sociological history. Yu could probably easily expand ForEveryone.net into a consistently engaging feature length documentary on the early development and adoption of the World Wide Web.

That is all well and good, but Yu allows Berners-Lee to give a lengthy pitch for so-called Net Neutrality, probably the most deliberately misrepresented and demagogued issue of the last ten years. Thanks to Net Neutrality, bit torrent pirates continue to hog ISP bandwidth, get the same speeds, and pay the same fees as the little old ladies who only use the web to post cat pictures on Facebook. Treating these two groups any differently is currently illegal.

Be that as it is, there are still a lot of interesting fascinating details in Yu’s film. Innovation should be exciting and she captures that spirit well. There is a slightly awkward irony of a film advocating universal web access holding a private screening, but maybe it will be free on the internet someday (surely on a bit torrent site, thanks to Net Neutrality). Recommended for fans of science documentaries like Particle Fever, ForEveryone.net is sure to have a lengthy festival life ahead of it.