Chelsea Clinton speaks Tuesday at South by Southwest Interactive conference
Asked whether she'll run for office: "I don't know"
Clinton is vice chair of her family's foundation
Her career advice to SXSW attendees: "Focus on what makes you angry"
In her first visit to South by Southwest Interactive, the tech-themed conference underway here, former first daughter Chelsea Clinton devoted the bulk of her prepared talk Tuesday to the admirable work of her family’s foundation in improving global health care.
But it was her more personal remarks, often about her famous family’s early use of technology, that seemed to resonate most.
“I definitely taught my parents how to text and how to charge their phones,” she told almost 3,000 people in an Austin convention hall. “I’m sure that’s not uncommon for many people in this room.”
Clinton, 34, said she got her first computer, a Commodore, “from Santa Claus” as a child and sent her first e-mail while in high school in the mid-1990s. That was around the time her father, then-President Bill Clinton, sent the first presidential e-mail, to astronaut John Glenn in space – a fact she said her dad was “ridiculously” proud of.
“He’s now a pretty good tweeter and a pretty good texter, but he’s still only sent about two e-mails,” she said.
She then joked about how her father is not the most famous texter in the family and showed the photo of her mother, wearing sunglasses and wielding a phone, that inspired the “Texts From Hillary” meme.
Wearing jeans and a black jacket, Clinton gave a rather stiff, scripted 25-minute speech, followed by a more relaxed Q&A session with Fast Company editor Robert Safian. She showed glimmers of both her mother’s poise and her father’s command of detail, rattling off stats about mobile banking usage in Kenya and the 750,000 children in the world who die each year from dehydration caused by diarrhea.
“I’m obsessed with diarrhea,” she said. “It doesn’t make me squeamish.”
As the only child of two ambitious parents, growing up in the spotlight of the Arkansas governor’s mansion and the White House, Clinton said a lot was expected of her at a young age.
At age 6 she said she would debate her parents, one at a time, about issues or current events while the other parent moderated.
“It taught me that not only was it OK to have an opinion and a point of view,” she said, “it was expected that I would have an opinion and a point of view.”
Asked for the umpteenth time about whether she’ll enter politics, Clinton demurred, although she left the door open at least a crack.
“I don’t know,” she said, adding, “For a long time, my answer to that question was no.”
She expressed dismay that none of her friends – most of them smart, accomplished people – show any interest in running for office.
“I find that really troubling,” she said, adding that when her father graduated from Georgetown University in the 1960s, he said about half his classmates were pondering a future in politics.
Clinton did urge the coders, designers and other tech professionals in the audience to devote their careers to making the world a better place. Tech entrepreneurs can sometimes find quicker solutions to global problems than policy makers, she said.
Asked for her advice to SXSW attendees pondering careers in social good, she offered this:
“I’d focus on what you’re most passionate about and what makes you angry. I’d ask myself, ‘What do I think is really unjust?’ That should be a starting point for how you engage with the world.”