Today's internet is a nightmare to use and navigate, in my opinion. I have little knowledge about the old internet. So, I don't have much to say about it, but from what I have experienced in the old internet is that it was actually decentralized. Firstly, our internet is occupied by the tech giants. When I talk about the internet, a normal person would think that it's something that makes Facebook work or something that helps us to chat with people in WhatsApp. The concept of internet being a social, decentralized hub where people can express themselves in their own way has been shadowed by the famous monopoly, i.e. meta(in my opinion, but there's google as well), and now it is seen as the place where we play by the rules of a company and express ourselves in short microblogs with limited number of words and a single UI where everyone is forced to be in the same place because they will be alone if they want to try something new.
The other things are search engines and advertisements. The search engines today show us results which are paid for by the owner to show on the top of the search result or optimized in such a way that the search engines will show us the particular sites on the top. Either way, it provides people to choose specific words and hijack the search results of a person, shadowing the factual results. Many websites that I see on the top are websites written by bots and hosted just for the sake of people clicking it and watching their ad, i.e. to earn money without any real information.
Talking about ads, the ads too are harmful nowadays. The ads today are mostly targeted and changes according to the user's web usage and interests. Targeted ads may be a good way to earn money from but are equally bad because it can be about anything, a news website might have ads for a gambling app or a good writer may have an ad which supports something illegal. They are not chosen and trusted by the owner of the website which puts their reputation in danger as well as the person surfing a good website may get scammed because they trusted the ad from the site they trust.
The first thing I need even before I access the internet is a browser. I prefer the Firefox browser because it helps the world by saving us from the monopoly that is chromium/chrome. The thing is that, every device today comes pre-installed with chrome and even if you go and get a browser from the internet it is most likely to be a chromium based browser (Opera, Vivaldi, Microsoft Edge, Brave, UC Browser etc.) if it isn't Firefox. If Firefox was not a thing, the web would have been controlled by a sole company, i.e. google, whose main aim is to give as much ad to the people so that they can earn money.
After I have Firefox installed, I prefer to choose a search engine which doesn't show targeted ads and works most of the time. I choose DuckDuckGo for that, but you may have your own preference. DuckDuckGo or DDG for short claims that it's a privacy focused search engine, but they seem to have better results than google for not being a sell-out. It's not perfect, and I do get websites written by bots or scams there as well, but is a "good guy" than google.
Now that I have Firefox with DuckDuckGo, I need a content blocker. My choice in it is uBlock Origin every single time. It's a must-have add-on to surf the web without being covered by pop-ups and ads. It removes most of the ads as well their spaces in the websites, so you don't get blank spaces in the middle of an article or post. Furthermore, it also has advanced features like the ability to remove specific elements from a website, which comes in handy when it cannot remove stuff completely or if I want to remove something from a website that's bothering me to read something there.
Doing all this is mostly enough for a normal internet user because it solves most of the things that the modern internet forces upon us.
I use an add-on made by Firefox called Firefox Multi-Account Containers which allows me to keep all the parts of my online life contained in different tabs colour coded and labelled, helping me to keep different activities or sites separate from each other. What it does is that it allows me to do shopping stuff in one container and research stuff in another without the cross site cookies being shared with each other, making my shopping life not interfere to my academic life.
Cookies are small files sent to your browser from websites you visit. These files monitor the sites you visit and the items you click on these pages. These are used to remember what you did in a particular site the last time you visited it. I mostly reject cookies and allow only the essential ones. And to automate the process I use an add-on called "I don't care about cookies" which blocks the pop-ups and if the cookies are essential it accepts it and I never have to do the annoying thing every time you open a new website.
With an abundance in social platforms and having to use multiple things being a heavy internet user, I need to have multiple accounts with multiple passwords and authentication process. So, to manage my password I use Bitwarden, which helps me save a lot of time as well because I log out from everything every time I close my browser.
I use sites like YouTube, mastodon and hacker news and I don't like the experiences there, it may have to do with design or any other things like bringing back the dislike counter on YouTube. I use add-ons like stylus, sponsor-block, return YouTube dislike, YouTube enhancer etc. to improve my experience.
I am a vim guy and having vim keys bidden to the browser is just that cherry on top that I needed. For that, I use an add-on called "Vimium" which does exactly that.
Everyone has their own use-cases and people use the internet for multiple things. Following my method and using my configuration may not be viable for everyone, but it works for the most part. The best way to improve your experience is to use the internet and experiment with it to set it up to your liking.