I’m not personally in a position to know whether the CIA is right about Russia hacking our election. This does not mean that I’m dismissing this as something to ignore, nor does it mean that I’m accepting this as something unexpected and unheard of.
Donald Trump was right when he said, “Nobody really knows, and hacking is very interesting.” From technical and other standpoints, he was wrong when he said, “Once they hack, if you don’t catch them in the act you’re not going to catch them.” He was wrong when he said that the CIA’s assessment was, “just another excuse” because without investigating, he can’t know this. He was right when he said, “It could be somebody sitting in a bed some place.”
I don’t know the details of this alleged hacking.
Here’s what I do know:
- Gathering intelligence, in all of its various forms, is what countries do. Ideally our country doesn’t get caught. Ideally we catch other countries.
- Influencing and manipulating other countries is one of the many things that countries do. In the past, the most powerful countries have been the most effective in this endeavor, but with technology this is becoming more equal opportunity. Influencing elections is just one of the ways countries exert influence on one another.
- Propaganda is nothing new. The increasingly incredibly clever ways of creating and spreading propaganda means that we are more susceptible to it than ever before. I remember the first time I saw a photograph that was “photo-shopped”. I believed it was real because I had never heard of Photoshop. It had never entered my conscious that this was something possible.
- The one thing that has surprised me most recently, was that anyone was surprised by the reality of fake news. What continues to surprise me is that we are so focused on what sources to trust that we are not focused on what content to trust…regardless of the source. This extends beyond news. It also includes science, fake science, and just plain bad science.
- Here’s the rub, when the sources sound credible or they give us information that feels right or works with our pre-existing beliefs, they act as curiosity killers. We are left vulnerable. The highly educated and the under-educated are equally susceptible. This vulnerability is equal opportunity.
- We are experiencing a data deluge like never before in human history. Data is not information. Information is not knowledge. Knowledge is not wisdom. Data are these symbols. $ 4 M 8 r % p. Information is seeing these symbols as a string. Knowledge is understanding that this string is a wifi password. Wisdom is using this password to access your wifi. The path to wisdom is paved with sharp, sparkly glass.
- We must have a filter to process this unprecedented deluge of data and the information and knowledge that others spin for us. Our cloudy bias-lens fogs our filter. Biases help us make fast decisions. They also dangerously misguide us when we need to make slower, more deliberate decisions. This reminds me of the quote by Alan Alda,
“Begin challenging your own assumptions. Your assumptions are the windows on the world.
Scrub them off every once in awhile, or the light won’t come in.”
Think of curiosity as Windex.
- Making tools of influence and manipulation is easier than ever. These tools are becoming harder and harder to detect. For example, manipulating photos is old-school. Several decades after I learned about Photoshop, I can do this with a free app and one eye tied behind my back. I can even use a cheap app to upload or download and alter videos. But on the fly, my poor human brain can’t always decipher between a real photo or video and an altered photo or video. Tell me it comes from a trusted source or a fancy institution of higher learning and without actively elevating curiosity, I won’t even take the time to wonder.
- I just experienced virtual reality (VR) for the first time. It blew my mind. I was under the sea. I was in space. I toured Chernobyl. I frolicked in an enchanted forest with darling elfin creatures. I could have negotiated with Putin, visited North Korea, and filibustered in Congress. These virtual experiences seemed totally real. How long will we be able to distinguish between virtual reality and reality? Could I use these virtual experiences to become the most experienced inexperienced president in history? Maybe I will run in 8 years. Hey, Jeff Bezos, have I got a big idea for you. Is this an announcement?
- See? Sometimes others manipulate our reality. Sometimes we manipulate our own reality. How will we be able to decipher between virtual reality and reality when it’s others manipulating our reality?
- What are we left with? Countries and people will do what they have always done with influence and manipulation. The tools will continue to get more sophisticated. Our brains will be challenged like never before. Maybe there is hope.
- The blurred lines between reality and our manipulated version of reality will only become crisper by exercising our curiosity muscle so that it can be called upon to serve as a tool. The practice of living curiously provides a clear, clean filtering lens of curiosity. It is a way of being. Applied curiosity is a way of using curiosity as a tool. It is a way of doing.
We can and should investigate all suspected spying, hacking, and manipulating. It will continue to be harder and harder to do this, and it would be ridiculously stupid not to do this. Our government owes us this. However, ultimately no entity can effectively legislate brains. We owe ourselves an ability to properly assess what is being presented. We owe ourselves an awareness of our human biases. We owe ourselves a bit more skepticism. We owe ourselves a lot more curiosity.
Becki Saltzman is the author of Living Curiously: How to Use Curiosity to Be Remarkable and Do Good Stuff. She is the founder of Applied-Curiosity training & consulting, the only formal curiosity training for companies and organizations that want to learn to use curiosity as a tool for innovation & creativity, problem solving & decision making, and sales & ethical persuasion.