But according to a surveyreleased by South by Southwest organizers and Edelman, the attendees at this year’s SXSW Interactive conference have some major doubts about what our elected officials can actually accomplish.
The online survey conducted in February took the pulse of nearly 900 Interactive attendees and found that 61 percent of respondents believe the tech industry is better equipped to find solutions to societal ills than the government is. And while President Obama has worked to integrate technologists into his administration, more than one-fifth of respondents said no political party is “equipped to leverage technology” in accomplishing these goals.
This outlook, however grim, shouldn’t be all that surprising. As the tech industry has gained prominence, leaders such as Mark Zuckerberg have tried to circumvent government by using their substantial wealth to invest in massive social programs in areas like healthcare and education. And of course, there is a vibrant libertarian streak that runs through many of Silicon Valley’s biggest companies.
Guns, Guts, and Privacy
That said, the SXSW Interactive community overwhelmingly identifies as Democrats, according to the survey. Yet even they don’t believe government is up to the challenge of protecting Americans from things like gun violence and online hate speech.
On the issue of guns, 90 percent of respondents said that better technology leading to speedier background checks and more thorough tracking would make Americans safer from gun violence. Another 84 percent support so-called “smart guns,” which are equipped with technology that prevents guns from working if they fall into the wrong hands. That stance, incidentally, may not sit will with a group of gun rights activists who plan to demonstrate outside of SXSW event spaces this week in order to call attention to Texas’s open carry law.
But guns aren’t the only hot-button issue the SXSW community believes technologists are better positioned to address. More than three quarters of respondents said the task of eliminating online threats should fall to social media companies; just 10 percent said that’s the government’s job. And of course, on the issue of privacy, 69 percent of respondents said that government should have nothing to do with people’s private data, an issue that is increasingly relevant as Apple and the FBI butt heads over access to the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone.
As he heads into his big SXSW talk, the first one ever delivered by a US president, this may not be the type of enthusiasm President Obama and his administration would like to hear from the tech community. And yet it seems there’s one thing Obama and the SXSW attendees can all agree on: when Washington won’t act, Silicon Valley can still play a vital role in making change happen anyway.