During his State of the Union address President Obama placed special emphasis on technology as an underlying force driving change in our economy. Early in his speech the president juxtaposed the "good old days" of "when finding a job meant showing up at a nearby factory or a business downtown" against a global, technological juggernaut that has opened up markets while increasing competition for jobs.
"In a single generation, revolutions in technology have transformed the way we live, work and do business," he said. Before laying out his vision of a new era of American innovation, Obama noted that "thirty years ago, we couldn't know that something called the Internet would lead to an economic revolution."
Speaking about the economic benefits of technology and innovation, Obama noted that "today, just about any company can set up shop, hire workers, and sell their products wherever there's an internet connection."
Obama's overall message was that the world has changed. In this new world, Americans must embrace technology or risk being left behind in an age of new demands and global competition. He noted that by recognizing the value of technology and emphasizing science and math education, countries such as China and India are attracting businesses and developing highly skilled workers.
One of the more illustrative moments of the speech was when Obama spoke of the "shuttered windows of once booming factories, and the vacant storefronts of once busy Main Streets." While he acknowledged the hardship and pain brought on by closed factories and steel mills that can "do the same work" with less people, the president urged Americans not to "stand still" despite the reality that the "rules have changed" for millions of workers.
In so many words, the president was telling the nation that it's time to retool and figure out how we'll survive in an increasingly "flat" world. Obama put the onus on government investments and preparing young people for science and technical fields but did not address the fact that an American worker with comparable training and education will likely still find it hard to compete in a free enterprise system that favors cheap labor and lax regulations.
While I was happy to hear the president talk about the internet and the promise of technology, I couldn't help feeling that the focus on "winning the future" through innovation was a way to bypass dealing with today's difficult challenges. Still, I liked that Obama took the opportunity to remind Americans about the enabling power of the internet. By seizing on the forward-moving nature of technology, the president invited us to look past the present moment and imagine a different tomorrow.