The System / The Tangled Web We Weave by James Ball

This book, published as The Tangled Web We Weave in the US and The System in the UK, is a look at the internet and how it works, from its inception and the physical infrastructure that makes it work to the companies and money that control many of the platforms and interactions we have with the web. Ball outlines how the internet is a result of decisions, market forces, and government actions, and concludes by looking at the action that can be taken to try and change it to ensure it works for the vast majority, not the few who control it.

Ball provides a useful summary, in different chapters, of different areas of the system that is the internet, starting with its origins and then looking at the physical cables and service providers, then at the tech industry and possibilities of government and other surveillance. The book is designed for complete beginners to reading about these areas, trying to avoid using jargon that isn’t explained and not going into technical depth. This makes it particularly useful for people either looking at the internet from more of a social science viewpoint but wanting to know how it works, or for people who want to know more of the history and issues surrounding the internet and how it is controlled.

A useful starting point or general overview for anyone interested in the internet and how it works and is used, this book is an accessible option hopefully likely to inspire further reading or action, particularly as Ball concludes with a call for change, for fighting for tech companies actually paying the taxes they should and not being allowed to use unfair labour conditions as well as for better treatment of people’s data. What probably is needed next is more accessible information on how this might happen, but it is important that books like this, aimed at people not necessarily up to date on these tech issues, are published.