President Obama's Historic Missed Technology Opportunity

By Rob Enderle September 26, 2011

Today President Obama was at the Computer History Museum (a great place to go if you are ever in Silicon Valley) and fortunately for me there were a lot of live bloggers at the event.   One of the best was done by All Things Digital’s Kara Swisher. However, if you go through what was said about his prepared talk and how he responded to questions, I think you’ll see why his presidency has come off the rails and that if he’d just walked through the Museum rather than dropping in and then dashing out he could have seen a way to get back on-track. It seems a shame that the first president to actually use current technology just doesn’t seem to understand the power of it or why it is the US equivalent to oil and, even better, a renewable resource that we are rapidly giving to China.  

Computer History

In the Computer History Museum, you see the physical history of technology, mostly from the US.   It is an amazing story of small businesses becoming giants and then fading away to be replaced by even bigger US-based firms over the years.   It came up as the US moved into becoming a super power and defined our competitive advantage both economically and militarily. The NASA technology that came about as we fought to reach the moon before anyone else is a shining testament to the spin offs of that fight and the amazing capabilities developed as side businesses.   It shows innovation, wonder, pride, and recalls times when the economy was far better and more were employed.   It shows times when we looked to the future, aspired to be more than we are, and felt better about our country way of life.  

Ironically, most of it came about despite most US Presidents who were focused on other things such as the result of a goal that JFK made in his short term. He was one of our few true visionaries and, in the Museum, you can see the lasting impact his one big goal had on making the technology segment great. 

IBM’s Warning

Last week, IBM had their millennial event on leadership and one of the speakers (Thomas L Friedman) was on message that ever since Jimmy Carter, the country has taken its eye off the ball. His example -- which is in his book, “That Used to be US,” -- talks about how China was able to build a massive transportation center in less time than it took his local subway to fix an escalator. The book goes on to argue that the country lost its focus and drive after the Cold War collapsed and that much of our current economic problem resulted from that lack of focus. Looking ahead, it suggests that countries like India and China will become the new world powers as the US slips in much the same way that Great Britain, France, and Spain did a century ago.  

He argues that the massive investment that the country made in technology helped make the US the power that it became and, were it done again, could restore the country to greatness.   In short, it points out how the US fell behind the world it invented and then goes on to suggest how it can use that same inventive spirit to come back. 

This, of course, makes President Obama’s talk at the Computer History Museum somewhat ironic because he was at the place that, according to what Friedman was saying, could provide the tools needed to save the nation and his presidency but seemed unaware of it. 

Taxes and cuts aren’t solutions to a problem like this, they are symptoms of it. If revenues are adequate, as they would be if the nation was doing well, the government wouldn’t need either.   The implication is that the right kind of investment could stop the ship from sinking while the other approach both slows and assures the ship will sink because increased taxes reduce national productively by driving investment and jobs overseas.  

Wrapping Up:   In Search of a Technology Vision

Technology properly applied can make our roads and skies safer, can increase productivity, and can increase farm yields. It is the one truly renewable resource in the world because it represents brain power and it is the one place the US has historically stood out.   In effect, it is the lever that has proven to be long enough to lift a nation and could be again.   In short, the answer to President Obama’s biggest problem was in the same building he spoke in, but he didn’t have the time to see it. 

Reminds me of an old joke: A student was seen pushing his bike to school one day, when asked why, he replied, “because I didn’t have the time to get on it.” Somehow, that doesn’t seem all that funny today because we just saw the President of the US metaphorically pushing that bicycle.    


Rob Enderle is President and Principal Analyst for the Enderle Group. To read more of his articles on TechZone360, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Rich Steeves

President and Principal Analyst, Enderle Group

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