President Barack Obama and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg sat down at Facebook headquarters this afternoon to have a townhall meeting that was streamed live to the Web.
Via Facebook Live and Livestream, Obama answered questions from Zuckerberg, the crowd and participants across the Web. Even though Obama was sitting on stage at the quintessential Web 2.0 corporation, not much of the conversation veered towards technology.
Questions included the national debt, the budget, the economic recovery, the Dream Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors), immigration, Medicare and Medicaid and education. For a while it sounded more like an "Obama For Re-Election in 2012" campaign stop than it did a conversation with one of the leaders of the Internet industry.
Technology topics that Obama did touch on included: the need for more engineers and programmers; what his administration is doing to change the education structure; the need for the education system to emphasize science and math; clean energy and the convergence of the healthcare industry and technology.
This is not the first time that Obama has gone to techland. In February he met with the leaders of the tech industry and had dinner with some of the most influential people in the United States. It is also not the first time that Obama has visited the home turf of a tech giant to tout education, as he did when he visited Intel in February to reiterate the need for more engineers in the world. Since his last State Of The Union address where he spent a significant amount of his speech on the need to pour money into tech, Obama has been making the rounds of the leaders in the industry to push the point home.
"We are in Silicon Valley, so, let's talk IT stuff," Obama said at one point. "I will try to pretend that I know what I am talking about."
Obama makes jokes that he is not tech savvy, but he is perhaps the American president most attuned to how current and emerging technology can lead the United States to a new economy and status in the global ecosystem.
For Obama, that all starts with education.
- President Obama
The president praised Zuckerberg as well as Bill Gates' charitable organizations for the work they do in advancing education in the realm of science and technology.
"Government alone cannot do it, there needs to be a cultural shift where we buckle down and say 'this stuff is important,'" Obama said. "That is why the work you, Mark, are doing is important, work that the Gates Foundation is doing in philanthropic investments in best practices in education [is] going to be so important. We have to lift our game up. That is hopefully one of the most important legacies I can leave as president of the United States."
Obama talked about the need for a cultural shift in American education that would create the type of people that can lead the United States in a technological evolution.
"That is why we are emphasizing math and science, that is why we are emphasizing math and sciences for girls, that is why we are emphasizing making sure that black and Hispanic kids are getting math and science. We have to do a much better job at STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education and that is one of the reasons that we had one of the first science fairs at the White House in a very long time [was] just because we want to start making science cool."