Earlier today, President Barack Obama stopped by the 2016 SXSW Festival to engage with a select group of reporters and share some thoughts on the future of technology and civic engagement. For the Keynote interview, Obama sat down with Texas Tribune Editor-in-Chief Evan Smith, who challenged the President to talk about a wide range of current issues. After charming the crowd by starting, "I love Austin, Texas. It’s good to be back," Obama got down to business and didn’t waste a second of time in creating a call to arms for citizens to use technology to make government better and more accessible.
The President called on the audience to apply their ideas and talents to make technology work for the country at large, especially when it comes to tackling big challenges like increasing participation in the political process and fighting climate change. Check out the best things President Obama said during the keynote below.
The reason I’m here is to recruit all of you. How can we start coming up with new ideas across disciplines and across skill sets to solve some of the big problems we’re facing today? The most important office in a democracy is the office of the citizen, and right now with all the talent that’s out there, our government is not working as well as it should. The only way we’re going to solve that is by getting citizens involved in ways we haven’t.
We are in a moment in history where technology, globalization, and our economy is changing so fast…Those changes offer us enormous opportunities, but are also very disruptive and unsettling. They empower individuals that could never do things they dreamed before, but also folks who are dangerous, who spread dangerous messages.
We’re the only advanced democracy in the world that makes it harder for people to vote. It’s sad. We take enormous pride that we’re the oldest contingent democracy but we systematically put up barriers and make it as hard as possible for our citizens to vote. It’s much easier to order pizza or a trip than it is for you to execute the single most important task in a democracy and that’s to select who will represent you in government.
When government does great things, we take it for granted and it’s not a story. Everyday, government is delivering for everybody in this room whether you know it or now… Part of our task is to tell a better story. Government is often its own worse enemy in that it has to be more responsive in where people interact with it.
We can’t solve the problems with government unless "we the people" are paying attention. In an age where people are getting info through digital platforms, through the Internet, where people’s attention spans have shrunk, it’s critical that all of you who are shaping this environment are spending time thinking how we are getting citizens engaged. It doesn’t mean you have to do it full time and it doesn’t mean you have to run for office yourself, but whatever your field is, there is a way for you right now to engage and participate in taking this democracy back in ways we haven’t seen in a very long time.
Part of the reason government doesn’t appear to provide a satisfactory solution is because government has to take on the hardest problems. The private sector doesn’t have to figure out how to educate the poorest kids or how to protect us from a terrorist cell. If you have aging sick veterans, the private sector may not serve them as well or figure out how to get homeless [people] off the street. The toughest problems are government problems, so you’re never going to get 100% satisfaction the way you might get that perfect coffee,
If we can reconvene of our government so that the interplay between the private sector, nonprofits and the government are opened up — through technology, data, social media — there’s no problem that we face in this country that isn’t solvable. The key is to have increbdile talent, as is gathered here, to focus on it. It’s not good enough to focus on the cool next thing. Part of what we have to do is ensure how to harness the cool next thing to make sure everyone has opportunity.
We recognize just like all of our other rights, there are gonna be some constraints that we impose in order to make sure we are safe, secure and living in a civilized society. Technology is evolving so rapidly that new questions are being asked. I am of the view that there are very real reasons why we want to make sure government can’t just get into everybody’s iPhones full of personal info and personal data.
In 10 months I will not have this office, but it’s not like I will stop caring about the things I care about now. I will not stop being involved in promoting the best, most prosperous, most peaceful, most tolerant, most ecologically responsible America that I can. I will be sitting in the audience with you, and I except you to step up and get in involved because the country needs you.