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Obama Heads to South by Southwest Festival to Talk About Technology

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President Obama preparing to leave Joint Base Andrews in Maryland for the festival in Austin, Tex., on Friday. Credit Zach Gibson/The New York Times

AUSTIN, Tex. — President Obama will tell attendees at the South by Southwest festival here on Friday that technology must be used to improve American civic life and the functioning of democracy.

Mr. Obama will become the first sitting president to visit the film and music festival, which in the last three decades has become a mecca for the high-tech, social-media set. He will participate in an hourlong conversation with Evan Smith, the editor of The Texas Tribune.

Aides said the president was eager to make the case that the technologies behind today’s entertainment and communication apps should also be directed at solving problems of voter turnout, access to information and civic engagement.

“Technology has the power to enhance this work,” Jason Goldman, the chief digital officer for the White House, said in an article posted on the Medium website on Thursday. “When it puts users first, it enables Americans to find their voice, for our government to deliver better services, and make our country more just.”

Mr. Obama is something of a technology geek, so his presence at the festival does not come as much of a surprise. He enjoys dinners with technology moguls and has tapped the wealth of Silicon Valley for his two presidential campaigns.

Mr. Obama has also talked to his closest advisers about creating a high-tech presidential center when he leaves office, in part to help visitors engage with his legacy and in part to encourage better use of technology in society.

He has also sought to lure more tech executives and engineers to government to make federal agencies more responsive to their customers. Mr. Obama created the United States Digital Service as a kind of troubleshooting team to upgrade the technology associated with government services, and he has filled its staff largely with veterans of Google, Microsoft and other such firms.

“The work they’re doing is impactful — and it’s hard to see how they don’t become a permanent feature of our government,” Mr. Goldman wrote. “Indeed, this might be President Obama’s most important accomplishment as the First Tech President: establishing a lasting legacy of service that will carry on long after he leaves office.”

Still, questions about how to harness the power of Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat to help government are not always clear, especially when the companies involved are, above all, designed to make money for their shareholders.

This spring, the White House will host what it is calling a summit meeting on civic engagement, and aides said the president will use it to continue the conversation about the role that technology can play.

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