Tech Tease: Hey, Obama! Where's my jetpack?

After the crest of election popularity, the office of president offers few rock star opportunities. Mostly its an ugly slog through diminishing approval ratings and quasi scandals. Few earth-shatteringly popular things come out of Washington that echo throughout history. And the thrill of geek-speak from those refined heights is even rarer still.

This year’s State of the Union address was simultaneously no different and completely different. While President Obama hasn’t changed his tune when pleading with Congress to increase their support of American innovation, he added very specific (and deliciously geeky) pleas in his addresss.

As usual, millions of Americans tuned in to grin and nod or scowl and mutter at the most widely-watched non-election broadcast in politics. But it wasn’t just televised broadcasts, radio, and printed transcripts we picked up. Tweets discussing the address logged by Tweetbeat (a semantic information sorting system) showed quantitative online discussion both during and after the address. What topic beat out tweets about the Super Bowl, Packers, and Steelers in total? The State of the Union. With 400,000 tweets total — 100,000 of which appeared in the first hour of Obama’s mouth opening.

As America and, well, the entire rest of the world, becomes more focused on technology, even high-stakes political speeches have gotten more interesting (although no less political).

The meat of the speech itself contained the usual quantity of rhetoric and rallying cries but made a few interesting (and hopefully impactful) points. The goals that caused my ears to perk up involved talk of gadgets, supercomputers, and high-speed transportation of information and people — “the Apollo projects of our time.”

Visions of red matter danced pleasantly through my head as I heard, “They’re developing a way to turn sunlight and water into fuel for our cars … using supercomputers to get a lot more power out of our nuclear facilities.” Sweet.

The goal of “break`ing` our dependence on oil with biofuels, and becom`ing` the first country to have a million electric vehicles on the road by 2015” is a huge one. Using Plug in America’s estimate of 3,000 highway-capable electric cars on the road right now, we’d need a hike in consumer adoption as well as production.

A major obstacle in this push towards innovation and a tech-heavy America lies in our educational systems. We’re ready to admit “maintaining our leadership in research and technology is crucial” but lagging educational standards stand in the way of winning the “race to educate our kids.” A call to focus on teaching, education, and life-long learning followed, including echoes of the DREAM Act hopes and of reforming a system that sends American-educated youth back to the nations of their birth.

The next segment on infrastructure development was pretty tech-heavy, too. Americans got called out on our lagging systems and lectured on “need`ing` the fastest, most reliable ways to move people, goods, and information.” Sounds like a pretty “duh” thing to say, but it’s necessary to talk about, especially with recent arguments between lobbyists, telecom giants, the FCC, and others revolving around the need for accessible high-speed internet.

Rounding it out with yet another reality check: American viewers learned “South Korean homes now have greater internet access than we do” and “countries in Europe and Russia invest more in their roads and railways.”

Will the promise to bring high-speed wireless to 98 percent of Americans in the next five years pan out? It just might if the words resonate enough with voters. To the naysayers, the president said, “This isn’t about faster internet or fewer dropped calls, it’s about connecting every part of America to the digital age.” 

Heartwarming tales of “a rural community in Iowa or Alabama where farmers and small business owners will be able to sell their products all over the world” and emergency workers able to “download the design of a burning building” brought applause and a reminder: we “have to knock down barriers that stand in the way of their success.”

Yet, the biggest challenges in creating efficient, modern answers to problems come from tackling the government itself. Admitting we live in the Information Age and acknowledging the last “major reorganization of the government” occurred before the dawn of color TV, Obama’s “great stride” of allowing veterans access to electronic medical records doesn’t seem like enough.

San Antonio residents and media justice activists DeAnne Cuellar and Rebecca Ohnemus blog throughout the week at They welcome your questions and feedback and can be reached directly at [email protected] Follow Tech Tease on Twitter at @thetechtease.

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