The internet is broken. Here’s how we fix it.

Joan Westenberg
27 min readDec 17, 2023
Photo by Kvalifik on Unsplash

In 1971, Ray Tomlinson, an engineer working on the ARPANET project — the predecessor to the Internet — sent the first email. The message was nothing profound; it was a series of random characters that looked more like the utterance of a toddler on a typewriter than a groundbreaking moment in technology. But that’s precisely what it was. In its nascent stage, the Internet was a haven for technologists, a playground for people like Tomlinson, who were exploring its potential, nudging at its boundaries, and shaping it into something that would change the world.

Fast forward a few decades, and the Internet has morphed from a fledgling innovation into a sprawling, ubiquitous entity that permeates every aspect of our lives. It’s as if Tomlinson’s initial message has multiplied and mutated, expanding far beyond its creator’s wildest imaginings. In the process, it’s become something he might not recognise — or even like.

Now, imagine a teenage girl; let’s call her Chrissy. Chrissy is part of the digital generation, born and bred in the era of smartphones and social media. Every day, she navigates a barrage of online ads explicitly targeted at her based on her age, gender, browsing history, and even her location. She’s part of a world where her data is a commodity, traded, sold, and used without explicit consent. Chrissy’s world is also one where…