Barack Obama and Civic Engagement in the Digital Age

March 11th, Austin, TX.
It was a sunny day, with chances of rain, typical Austin. I was at the Long Center about to attend the opening keynote for SXSW, performed by a very special guest. The doors opened at 11am and the queue was several blocks long. The event began just after 2.30pm in an atmosphere was full of mobile phones and expectations.

After waiting for a long long time, there was a moment when security started shuffling around, everything went quiet and the curtains opened up. Barack Obama entered the stage, accompanied by Texas Tribune editor Evan Smith. With a standing ovation, they both sat down and the interview began.

He began by saying: “We are at a moment in history where technology, globalization and the economy is changing rapidly. It’s a tremendous opportunity to use this change, improve the government’s problems and encourage participants to use technology and innovation to improve civic engagement.”

He emphasized on how we systematically make it harder for our citizens to vote: “It is much easier to order pizza or a trip than it is for you to exercise the single most important task in democracy.”

So how can citizens and technology improve the country?

  1. “We can make government work better through technology.”
  2. “We can tackle big problems in new ways.”
  3. “We can make sure we’re using big data, analytics, and technology to make civic participation easier.”

He then spoke of a plan to modernize government. Right now there are Google and Facebook engineers working on improving inefficient government systems. So what about the security and data privacy of citizens?

“Technology is evolving so rapidly that new questions are being asked, and I’m of the view that there are very real reasons why we want to make sure that government can’t just get into everyone’s iPhones or smartphones that are full of very personal information or very personal data.”

Since the creation of the Internet, there is a strong debate between security and digital privacy. The majority of those present recalled the case of Apple vs FBI, but Obama said he could not talk directly about this topic. He basically spoke of the two sides of the issue, arguing that we have to solve the problem in a rational way, before waiting for a catastrophe to develop that requires us to solve in a clumsy way. Until now, it remains an unanswered dilemma and only time will tell what our future is.

In my opinion, we’re witnessing one of the most exciting changes the world is going through. Technology grows in an exponential way, we see its impact on all of us and we understand that it can improve our quality of life.
It’s imperative that country leaders discuss about these topics because we’ll have to solve new dilemmas such as privacy, the use of self driven vehicles, biotechnology and more. Beyond that, the important thing here is to understand the changes, have an optimistic vision about the future and discover that we are capable of evolving as society.

If you want to know more about technology and innovation, check us out at Lateral View!