This is an excerpt from my debut book, ReThink the Internet: How To Make The Digital World a Lot Less Sucky. It’s a first-of-its-kind, “by-youth, for-youth” guide to help a 3rd-7th grade audience (and their parents, caregivers, and educators) navigate the digital world with confidence. Through a series of funny, fictional stories, I impart 7 important lessons — ranging from how to avoid too much screen time to how to stay calm and collected online — with the goal of equipping young people with the skills to be responsible digital citizens.
Throughout my nearly nine-year career as anti-hate activist and inventor of ReThink, a patented app that stops cyberbullying, I quickly realized that while today’s generation is tech savvy, they’re not digitally literate. I set out to create a “survival guide” to the Internet I knew youth would love. That’s why "ReThink the Internet" is fun and relatable as well as educational and impactful. It personalizes the issues youth read about, puzzle over, and struggle to solve; it also offers youth the practical tools and skills they need to tackle these challenges in their everyday lives.
While written for a middle grade audience, the book also includes a Companion Guide for educators and parents, so that they can support young readers and initiate vital conversations about their use of technology and the Internet.
ReThink the Internet will be published by Philomel Books (an imprint of Penguin Random House) on May 31st, 2022. You can pre-order a copy today here: https://bit.ly/3lIIzVz.
Hey, there! What’s up? Welcome to this book! You might be here for many reasons: (1) you think the internet is kinda sucky (I couldn’t agree more) and you want to change it, (2) you want to learn more about the internet and technology (which, even though it’s everywhere, is still kinda complicated . . .), or (3) . . . let’s be real: some adult you know bought this book for you. Whichever of the three it is (and maybe it’s more than one), I’m so excited you’re here! Here’s what that adult didn’t know when they bought this book: I’m a young person, too, so I hate the lecturing, cringey, sappy “life lessons” just as much as you do. Let me start, then, by being clear: that’s not what this book is about. It’s also not here to make you use your phone a certain way, or to claim that technology is “bad.” (Straight up, the only folks who think that are . . . well, old people.)
With all of that said, what is this book about? And why should you read it? Simply put, this book is designed to be an internet “survival guide.” In this book, you’ll find everything you need to know to be a successful digital citizen (and if you’re wondering what that is, take a peek at chapter 1). Today’s internet might seem pretty simple: hop online, chat with friends, watch videos, do your homework . . . but the internet—and technology more broadly—is much messier than you might realize. This book is meant to teach you seven main skills, which, if you master them, will ensure that the internet never gets the better of you. In other words, you can use tech to be awesome, instead of running into trouble you later regret.
Okay, maybe I have your attention. But if I were you, I’d still be kinda skeptical: Who is this girl? And why does she get to teach me how to use the internet? Good questions. That’s what this part of the book is for. To get to know me, your internet instructor: the one, the only, the myth, the legend . . . Okay, I’m not that cool, so I’ll skip the dramatic intro—my name is Trisha Prabhu, and I’m here to teach you how to do the internet right.
When I was thirteen years old, one day after I came home from school, I was browsing the internet and stumbled upon a story about Rebecca Sedwick, a twelve-year-old girl from Florida. The article said she’d been cyberbullied for over a year and a half, after which she dropped out of school and suffered from serious mental health issues that caused her death by suicide. I was shocked; it seemed unreal to think that kids were being driven out of school and even killed because of what they’d been sent on social media! I immediately started to do more research—and that’s when, for the first time, I learned about the scope of this issue: every day, millions of young people around the world receive mean or hurtful messages on the internet . . . partly because, well, it’s just so easy to be mean online. Technology, it seemed, was enabling the spread of hate at pandemic proportions.
I was shocked—and fired up. You know that feeling when, well . . . you just have to do something about a problem? That’s how I felt. I couldn’t let this go; I refused to let a sucky internet reign even a minute longer! Somehow, someway, I pledged to myself, I was going to fix this thing. (Cue the heroic Disney music!)
That left me with just one important question to answer: How the heck was I actually going to do that? I was a teenager, with no resources, experience, background, or skills. Except—Wait! I quickly realized that that wasn’t true: I have the all-powerful skill of coding! And so—contrary to most anti-hate work to date—I started to seriously think about how I could use technology to solve this issue, an issue that technology itself created.
After months of brainstorming, building, and experimentation, I had the answer, and my solution, which I named “ReThink,” was born. The concept was simple: I knew that a lot of young people (myself included!) were prone to making rash, sometimes silly decisions—and it’s not all our fault (at this age, our brains aren’t actually designed to be super thoughtful). I hypothesized that that effect could’ve possibly translated to the internet: in other words, staring at a phone—rather than someone’s face—made it even easier to let bad decision-making take over! What I wanted to create was a brake: something that would give a user a chance to pause, review, and rethink saying something mean, before the damage was done. I developed a vision: If someone tried to text me “I hate you!” their phone would receive an alert. Hold up! are you sure you want to say that? that’s not cool. The technology could function as an app—an app that gave young people a chance to do the thing they already knew was right.
So that’s exactly what I did: computer in hand, I got to work coding. I later found that the ReThink solution was extremely effective: almost everyone who received a chance to rethink a mean message changed their mind and decided not to say it! (Move over, Thomas Edison—there’s a new inventor in the house.)
From there, my little idea ballooned into a global movement. A year later, I found myself running a company, giving talks about my work on stages around the world—from the White House to ABC’s Shark Tank—and leading anti-hate awareness campaigns. Without meaning to, I’d stumbled upon a way to do what I’d always wanted to do—make an impact, especially on really important issues—and as a teenager, which was super awesome.
And that’s how I find myself here, writing to all of you! In my many years of trying to fix this thing we call the internet, I’ve seen it all and learned a lot. And I want to share that knowledge—as well as my handy digital tricks and tips—with all of you.
Okay, Trisha, you might be thinking. Seems like you know what you’re talking about. But seriously, do I really need to read this book?
The short answer? Yes. But I’m not sure that’s satisfying, so here’s the long answer: Our generation (sometimes referred to as “Gen Z”) is the first to be born into a world of technology, but we won’t be the last. Technology and the internet are here, and if you ask me, they’re here to stay. And that’s a good thing: For the most part, your phone, your computer, and the internet you access through those devices are great, right? You can learn about new topics, connect with friends, and even create some hilarious memes. But part of learning to live in a new society—in our case, a society that runs on technology—is ensuring that you’re ready to be successful in that society. In the same way you go to school so that one day you can be successful in the “real world,” you also need a digital education in order to be an “internet insider.” Otherwise, the internet can—and most likely will—get the better of you, as it has so many people. And, well, that would be really sucky.
But don’t worry, there’s nothing to fear—Trisha is here! (Okay, that was kind of lame. But hey, it rhymed—give me some credit.) Jokes aside, I have your back. I’m here to teach you everything you need to know, in a format that’s actually fun, interesting, and informative.
In the chapters that follow, you’ll find seven stories that aim to teach you the seven skills you need to know to crush this thing we call our digital universe. Each story is paired with an Internet Challenge, so you can practice your new skills. Get ready to learn, laugh, and have a lot of fun!
I’ll see you there—and I can’t wait. Thanks again for joining me on this journey. Let’s go!
Excerpted from RETHINK THE INTERNET copyright © 2022 by Trisha Prabhu. Used by permission of Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.