President Barack Obama today kicked off SXSW with an opening keynoteÂ urgingÂ attendees to utilize technology and innovation as a way to encourage civic engagement.Â It is the first time a sitting president has made an appearance at the Austin festival.
â€œWe are at a moment in history where technology, globalization and the economy is changing so fast,â€ Obama says, â€œSXSW brings together people who are at the cutting edge of those changes.â€
The president was criticized this week for skipping former first lady Nancy Reaganâ€™s funeral to give his keynote. Though he did not address it, he did say he came to Austin with an important purpose.
â€œThe reason Iâ€™m here is to recruit all of you, and say to you as Iâ€™m about to leave office â€“ how can we come up with new platforms and new approaches across skill sets to solve some of the biggest problems weâ€™re facing today?â€
Obama citedÂ todayâ€™s hottest technology, such as on-demand apps and services,Â asÂ the type of innovative thinkingÂ that could be applied to solve government-related issues.
â€œWe 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,â€ he said.
â€œWhen government does great things, we take it for granted and itâ€™s not a story. But these people areÂ checking the weather on their phone, lo and behold, thereâ€™s a government satellite facilitating all that.
â€œPart of our task is to tell a better story about what government does,â€ he said. â€œIf suddenly you have the capacity to interact with the government to help you understand why taxes are important, [for example,] then peopleâ€™s attitudes change.â€
This stance, he says, is why initiatives like ConnectEdÂ andÂ Computer Science for AllÂ were created to not only encourageÂ techÂ communitiesÂ to innovate for the government, but to also provideÂ opportunities to those without regularÂ access to the Web.
â€œThese are solvable problems. Itâ€™s not a matter of us passively waiting for people to solve them,â€ he said. â€œ[If] weÂ use technology, data, social media in order to join forces around problems, then thereâ€™s no problem that we face in this country thatâ€™s not solvable.â€
The keynote also briefly touched on the topic of encryption and privacy in light of the FBI and Apple case, but POTUS declinedÂ to make official comments. Instead, he questioned the balance between personal privacy and theÂ safety of the greater society.
Still, he continued to push for the audience toÂ use technology as leverage for democratic participation.
â€œIn 10 months, I will not have this office. It has been a great privilege of my life, but Iâ€™m not going to stop promoting the best most peaceful, tolerant, ecologically responsible America.â€