Part history, part technical primer, part panegyric, part cautionary tale, part speculative rumination and all Werner Herzog, “Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World” is a documentary about the Internet that speaks with the filmmaker’s typically idiosyncratic voice—and is all the better for it. It might ramble, but you’re always willing to follow Herzog’s zigzag course, even if it reaches no definitive destination.

The film is divided into chapters, beginning with one about the birth of the Internet on October 29, 1969, at UCLA, when a student tried to communicate online, via the university’s computer, with another at Stanford. In typing “login” he got only as far as “lo” before the connection crashed, but those two letters marked the start of a revolution comparable—as one scientist interviewed by the director opines—with Columbus’ discovery of America. They also, with typical cheekiness, gave Herzog the first word of his film’s title.

From this point the film takes a scattershot approach that gradually leads to the question: what next? There are interviews with aging pioneers who wrote protocols for the WWW or were among the relative few who had access to it (their names contained in one slim telephone book), and people like Ted Nelson, a prophetic philosophizer of hypertext who is now considered a crank by many of his colleagues for his heterodox notions (but a brilliant crank nonetheless). There are visits to wooded clinics where users who have become addicted to online gaming undergo withdrawal treatment, and an Appalachian enclave free of cellular waves where folks who are physically impaired as a result of exposure have congregated to escape them. There are visits to scientists who are teaching robots to learn—some to play soccer, for example—and an episode that inquires about where the responsibility might lie when a driverless car causes an accident. And there is a brief session with a family whose personal tragedy was turned into public torment when the unstoppable exhibition of a graphic photo taken at the scene of an auto accident caused wrenching emotional pain. No wonder one naysayer opines that the Internet represents the Antichrist at work.

All of this raises important issues. How will artificial intelligence develop? Is the Internet achieving self-consciousness, and what are the ramifications if it is? As they become more and more linked to devices rather than other people, will humans grow increasingly isolated from others of their kind—and is that necessarily a bad thing? Will sunspots disrupt the Internet, with dire results across the globe? Does that mean that we should colonize Mars, as some entrepreneurs are engaged in planning for?

If all these are deep matters, however, rest assured that Herzog addresses all of them with his usual wryly quizzical tones. Always offscreen, he asks interviewees serious questions, but his unmistakable way of speaking, with its curious lilt, endows them with a sly, if unseen, smile, and he’ll then pose some sci-fi query—does the Internet dream, and if so of what? Can robots fall in love, and would that be a good thing? On occasion he’ll jump in with typical Herzogian enthusiasm: talking with Elon Musk about Mars colonization, he volunteers to go, and even expresses the willingness to do so on a one-way ticket, though Musk judges that most people would certainly want the option of returning to earth should they find their new home not to their liking.

What “Lo and Behold” emphasizes, through the eclectic mass of material Herzog has collected, is that the Internet is still in its infancy, and the totality of the impact it will have on the globe and our species is still very much a matter of conjecture. One thing, however, is certain. Leonard Kleinrock, the ebullient scientist who at the very beginning of the film invites Herzog into the inner sanctum at UCLA where the machine that started it all still sits like a holy relic, later wonders whether computers might not be the worst enemy of critical thinking, prompting people to grow dependent on them rather than use their own brains. As long as people like Werner Herzog, a man of insatiable curiosity and a puckish insistence on probing for answers, is around, critical thinking is not in danger of extinction—or of becoming the exclusive property of any digital domain. This engaging documentary proves that.