Book Review: The Dark Net

Book Review: The Dark NetCan you imagine a world without the internet today?

It's brought us so much, become a staple in our lives. There is little doubt that the net is one of the most important and influential creations in our human history. But in a lot of ways we've also created a monster, a Frankenstein sewn together from many parts of our collective psyche, both good and bad. Author Jamie Bartlett (who is also the Director of the Center for the Analysis of Social Media) does us a great service by dissecting this dark half, peeling back the skin and sinew so we can see what's gone rotten inside.

'The Dark Net' is not a long book, yet it covers a lot of ground. Bartlett embeds himself with cypherpunks, online neo-nazis, cam-girls, trolls, and the technologically savvy. He examines the underground trade of drugs, contract-killing, and child pornography on the internet, while also looking at the web's relationship to terrorism, stability (or lack thereof), transhumanism, and self-harm. Each chapter could likely be a book in itself, but Bartlett is our knowledgeable tour guide to the internet's bloated seedy underbelly, taking us on a whistle-stop tour of each dark corner, giving us enough time to get acquainted and often unsettled.

Bartlett does the right, and difficult, thing on his journey: He withholds judgement. What he learns (as we inevitably do too) is that both the real world and the digital world are composed of shades of gray. There is no black and white on any topic, no matter how desperately we wish it were true. If facts matter to you, Bartlett has got some you might not be prepared for. The information age can be a bitch, and it comes with many disturbing studies and realities, enough to give your faith in humanity a good shake... and possibly your stomach a turn.

Inevitably, the sheltered types will complain that Bartlett unearths horrible realities that offend their delicate sensibilities. On the flip side, tech-head types will gripe that he didn't go far or deep enough into the subcultures they're already familiar with. This book is not for those groups. It's for the vast majority of us that use the internet every day of our lives, consider it part and parcel of our existence, but are largely unaware of some of the seediness or radicalism simmering just below the surface.

Bartlett's writing has great flow, is well researched, and doesn't lose you when some of the more complex technological aspects rear their ugly head. The book moves at great pace, and its topics are structured in ways that allow you to put it down and walk away, but not for too long. It is rare that I find a non-fiction book as engaging and tightly written as the pared-down fast-paced fiction I hold dear. Jamie Bartlett is a writer for our times and we would all be wise to listen to him now, as well as see what he has to say next.

Buy 'The Dark Net' On Amazon

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