Is the Internet Making Us Crazy?

The story of The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, by Miguel de Cervantes, later adapted into the popular musical Man of La Mancha, is about a man who “lays down the melancholy burden of sanity and conceives the strangest project ever imagined: to become a knight-errant, and sally forth to roam the world in search of adventures to right all wrongs.” In a famous scene, he encounters windmills, which he sees as dangerous giants, and attacks them. He does this to return chivalry and virtue to a world that has forgotten these ideals. His dedication to his beliefs and convictions inspires a simple farmer to become his squire and a prostitute to discover within herself the lady “Dulcinea.”

In the past, it was rare for an individual to maintain his or her beliefs when they were radically different from the rest of society. Don Quixote inspired his worldview in books concerning knights and their code of conduct. In the world in which he lived, he was considered insane for not conforming to the rest of society’s beliefs; however, today, he might fit right in, at least in the blogosphere, where it has become common for people to have wildly differing opinions, even on objectively verifiable facts.

Internet Making

A significant reason people are no longer united through shared paradigms is the dawn of the Information Age and the 24/7 media coverage of world events. The sheer quantity of information spun to advance certain agendas has caused people to see the world through distinctly different lenses. Because the Internet is so large, it is more likely than not that a person with a certain theory can find entire websites that support it, making it no longer a speculative idea but, in that person’s eyes, a fact. This leads to the question: Is the Internet warping our perspective on the world? Have we become Don Quixote’s tilting at windmills instead of seeing things as they are? I believe that the answer is “Yes.”


To fully answer these questions, it is important to ask: How were things before, and why did they change? Before the Persian Gulf War in 1990, few television channels existed. Baby Boomers can recall that there were about three channels, and instead of having stations dedicated to news 24/7, broadcast news was limited to approximately thirty minutes in the evening. Because of the brief window networks allotted for information, anchors had to choose the stories they considered to be the most important. This naturally resulted in some perspectives and stories getting left on the cutting room floor. People had to trust the broadcast journalists without the Internet to provide information and various views on current events. The journalists were sensitive to their responsibility to uphold their integrity and present what they thought was an accurate reflection of the state of the world.

For instance, many Americans were so excited and supportive of the “Space Race” and NASA because “the most trusted man in America,” Walter Cronkite, reported on it with contagious enthusiasm and optimism. The American people considered him a vital part of the U.S. space program, as well as the astronauts and engineers. When Cronkite expressed his passion for space exploration, his viewers also began to think highly of the effort because they trusted the man’s opinion who brought them their news every night. In 2006, NASA recognized Cronkite’s key role during the Apollo Moon Landings by giving him a piece of Moon rock, making him the first non-astronaut to receive such an honor.

If Cronkite’s role as the voice and father figure of the American people was not apparent during the Space Race, it certainly became so during the Vietnam War. When he visited Vietnam to cover the aftermath of the Tet Offensive, he saw first-hand the horror and futility of the war. He brought his experience back to the U.S. and conveyed it to the public by condemning the war. After hearing the report, President Lyndon Johnson said, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America.”

This and the images journalists captured while documenting the Vietnam War marked a transition period in the news. Although many of the U.S. saw events as Walter Cronkite described them, people were also beginning to form opinions about the war. The famous photo of the “Napalm Girl” taken by Nick Ut disappeared into the public’s minds. Despite the faith and confidence the U.S. president and government expressed in the need for the Vietnam War, a vocal percentage of the public disagreed. Even though people may have felt negatively about previous wars, this marked the first time the crowd began to condemn their country’s involvement in a fight.

The period when America began to seriously question Vietnam is significant because people started to have more access to information. As a result, the unity of the public’s opinion shattered into many different perspectives and beliefs. People with opposing views naturally thought each other were wrong or possibly crazy. In the eyes of the people who supported the war, the protesters could be seen as unpatriotic or drug-addled. In the eyes of the anti-war advocates, the supporters were brainwashed or willfully ignorant.

During the first Gulf War, information became even more accessible. Now known as the “CNN factor” or the “CNN Effect,” it began when CNN, the underdog among the big-time networks, decided to cover the new war 24/7. CNN had already specialized in news coverage, so it had enough equipment and people to provide live coverage around the clock when the war began. Despite the criticism that CNN abandoned its journalistic objectivity to turn the fight into an exciting drama, this was the first time the U.S. could see a war happening.

The CNN model was so successful that other networks adopted it, bringing on “experts” and holding panel discussions. It became harder for the government to garner the public’s approval because news networks were commenting and reporting everything as it happened while demanding government comment. People began to form their own opinions about the world instead of relying on the viewpoint of “the most trusted man in America.” The government now had to contend with the different views of millions of individuals who saw events as the news networks presented them and as they began to be presented through the Internet.

As the Internet became accessible to the public and websites became easier to create, the average person had the platform to voice their opinions. Because there was no clear hierarchy on the Internet, everyone online could say what they thought about the world and connect with like-minded individuals. If you had a conspiracy theory about the JFK assassination or 9/11, events were you could find an audience of hundreds, if not thousands, of people who had the same perspective. Even if there did not seem to be anyone who agreed with you, with enough effort, you could probably convince them that you were an authority on the subject or had “inside information.”

As of 2010, more people got their news from various “official” and “unofficial” sources on the Internet than they did in newspapers. Instead of relying on a paternal figure to explain the significance or reality of events, people now go online and see the world as they want, regardless of whether it is an accurate reflection of reality. As opposed to being the lone knight with a beautifully skewed worldview, a person without the conviction of Don Quixote can go online and see the world in an entirely new way.

For example, if a person believes that humans are fundamentally good, they can find numerous websites dedicated to inspiring rescues, selfless acts, and stories of compassion. With enough exposure and interactions with other people who believe that humans are naturally good, our hypothetical person can resist people’s attempts offline to convince them of the opposite. Through their optimistic perspective, they might even view acts that might seem horrific and cruel to others, e.g., a gory murder. On the other hand, a person could use the Internet to support seeing a conspiracy in every shadow and turning windmills into giants.


Alcohol scholar. Bacon fan. Internetaholic. Beer geek. Thinker. Coffee advocate. Reader. Have a strong interest in consulting about teddy bears in Nigeria. Spent 2001-2004 promoting glue in Pensacola, FL. My current pet project is testing the market for salsa in Las Vegas, NV. In 2008 I was getting to know birdhouses worldwide. Spent 2002-2008 buying and selling easy-bake-ovens in Bethesda, MD. Spent 2002-2009 marketing country music in the financial sector.