In a perceptive piece following Barack Obama’s State of the Union address last night, Motherboard asserted that the president’s speech was about technology because “everything is about tech.” It’s a convincing argument. Whether we’re talking about preparing America’s workforce for the future, the challenges presented by the automation of jobs, transitioning away from fossil fuels, or confronting terrorists’ savvy use of the Internet, nearly every aspect of American life is now touched in some way by technology.
On the surface, Obama’s speech was about far more than technology. He touched on income inequality, the chronic political rancor in Congress, even gay marriage. But as many pundits noted, the theme of his speech was, like his first campaign for the presidency in 2008, centered around change. “We live in a time of extraordinary change—change that’s reshaping the way we live, the way we work, our planet, our place in the world. It’s change that promises amazing medical breakthroughs, but also economic disruptions that strain working families,” he said.
Ultimately, that change is technological in nature. From government surveillance of our phone calls and online activities to editing the human genome, change has become, as they say, the only constant. It can be scary, potentially spooking large swaths of the electorate into voting out of fear rather than hope. This is Obama’s concern, and given the tenor of the 2016 presidential campaign so far, it is more than justifiable. Still, he clearly believes that ingenuity is one of the country’s greatest strengths. In stirring rhetoric, he made an appeal for optimism, invoking some of the country’s greatest innovators: “America is Thomas Edison and the Wright Brothers and George Washington Carver,” he said. “America is Grace Hopper and Katherine Johnson and Sally Ride. America is every immigrant and entrepreneur from Boston to Austin to Silicon Valley racing to shape a better future.”