Laura Sydell

Laura Sydell fell in love with the intimate storytelling qualities of radio, which combined her passion for theatre and writing with her addiction to news. Over her career she has covered politics, arts, media, religion, and entrepreneurship. Currently Sydell is the Digital Culture Correspondent for NPR's All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, and NPR.org.

Sydell's work focuses on the ways in which technology is transforming our culture and how we live. For example, she reported on robotic orchestras and independent musicians who find the Internet is a better friend than a record label as well as ways technology is changing human relationships.

Sydell has traveled through India and China to look at the impact of technology on developing nations. In China, she reported how American television programs like Lost broke past China's censors and found a devoted following among the emerging Chinese middle class. She found in India that cell phones are the computer of the masses.

Sydell teamed up with Alex Bloomberg of NPR's Planet Money team and reported on the impact of patent trolls on business and innovations particular to the tech world. The results were a series of pieces that appeared on This American Life and All Things Considered. The hour long program on This American Life "When Patents Attack! - Part 1," was honored with a Gerald Loeb Award and accolades from Investigative Reporters and Editors. A transcript of the entire show was included in The Best Business Writing of 2011 published by Columbia University Press.

Before joining NPR in 2003, Sydell served as a senior technology reporter for American Public Media's Marketplace, where her reporting focused on the human impact of new technologies and the personalities behind the Silicon Valley boom and bust.

Sydell is a proud native of New Jersey and prior to making a pilgrimage to California and taking up yoga she worked as a reporter for NPR Member Station WNYC in New York. Her reporting on race relations, city politics, and arts was honored with numerous awards from organizations such as The Newswomen's Club of New York, The New York Press Club, and The Society of Professional Journalists.

American Women in Radio and Television, The National Federation of Community Broadcasters, and Women in Communications have all honored Sydell for her long-form radio documentary work focused on individuals whose life experiences turned them into activists.

After finishing a one-year fellowship with the National Arts Journalism Program at Columbia University, Sydell came to San Francisco as a teaching fellow at the Graduate School of Journalism at University of California, Berkeley.

Sydell graduated Magna Cum Laude with a bachelor's degree from William Smith College in Geneva, New York, and earned a J.D. from Yeshiva University's Cardozo School of Law.

When my mother passed away, I was by her side in a peaceful, sunny room at a hospice in South Florida. The sliding glass doors looked out to a flourishing garden filled with bougainvillea, rosebushes and carefully cultivated grasses. A block of sunlight, alive with swirling dust, hit the edge of my mother's bed where the tops of her small bony feet made a lump under the light cotton covers.

Fifty years ago this week, a chemist in what is now Silicon Valley published a paper that set the groundwork for the digital revolution.

You may never have heard of Moore's law, but it has a lot do with why you will pay about the same price for your next computer, smartphone or tablet, even though it will be faster and have better screen resolution than the last one.

Remember those days of tending rows of virtual soybeans and strawberries on your Facebook page with a game called Farmville? It was a moment, and Zynga, the company that makes the game, cashed in when it went public back in 2011.

Now, Zynga is losing money and its founder is back, to mixed reviews.

When Zynga launched Farmville in 2009, it surprised everyone with its success. It quickly became the most popular game on Facebook.

But people got bored with planting seeds on a desktop. The market had moved to mobile, and Zynga didn't keep up.

You may want your kid to major in something practical at college, like engineering, so they can land one of those great jobs at a big tech company. But, you might also urge them to spend time studying the arts. Some tech companies are bringing in artists to help them work out ideas and build cool new things.

I had a lot of experiences this past week: I shot birds out of the sky with my eyes, my fingers were on fire, I flew on top of a drone over the arctic and looked into the jaws of a dragon.

I did all this without leaving San Francisco, at the 2015 Game Developers Conference, where the people who make the video games we love to play come to the city by the thousands to check out the latest hardware and software for making games.

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Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Apple's innovative iTunes music service is still the market leader in music downloads, but after more than a decade of growth, sales of music tracks on iTunes have been declining. Last year saw the largest drop in sales — 14 percent. The drop is attributed to the increasing popularity of streaming music services such as Spotify, Pandora and YouTube. These services give fans access to millions of tracks from any Internet-connected device for a monthly fee or in return for listening to commercials.

The Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum in New York City collects the beautiful and practical — vintage Eames chairs, Jimi Hendrix posters, Victorian bird cages.

The museum, which is housed in the Andrew Carnegie mansion, is reopening after an extensive $81 million, three-year renovation — and the redesign has turned this historic building into one of the most technologically advanced museums in the country.

The Internet radio service Pandora made its name by creating personalized stations using tools such as "like" and "dislike" buttons for listeners. But a deal between Pandora and a group of record labels has raised concerns that the company is favoring certain songs over others because it's paying the musicians behind those songs a smaller royalty.

When Pandora emerged a decade ago, its big selling point over traditional radio was that it created a station just for you, as the company's Eric Bieschke told NPR last year.

It is illegal to threaten someone online. But in recent weeks there have been a number of high-profile threats against women — among the targets were several feminist video game critics and an actress who starred in a video about street harassment of women.

But many victims of online threats say they are frustrated because the perpetrators are never caught.

IBM's Watson computer has amused and surprised humans by winning at Jeopardy! Now, one of the world's smartest machines is taking on chefs.

Well, not exactly. Watson is being used by chefs to come up with new and exciting recipes in a feat that could turn out to be useful for people with dietary restrictions and for managing food shortages.

If your image of a computer programmer is a young man, there's a good reason: It's true. Recently, many big tech companies revealed how few of their female employees worked in programming and technical jobs. Google had some of the highest rates: 17 percent of its technical staff is female.

It wasn't always this way. Decades ago, it was women who pioneered computer programming — but too often, that's a part of history that even the smartest people don't know.

Following the shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen, many young African-Americans posted pictures of themselves on Twitter under the hashtag #IfTheyGunnedMeDown. They were protesting the damaging ways in which young black men like Brown are often portrayed in the media. The response demonstrated the scope of what's informally known as Black Twitter, a virtual community of African-American Twitter users.

The price of drones is dropping — a decent one could cost you $300 — but the reality of the devices flying around cities and neighborhoods doesn't sit well with a lot of Americans.

Are they just paranoid?

Three months ago, when Michael Kirschner and his wife purchased a new condo in San Francisco, they were not concerned about drones. They fell in love with the unit because of its big picture windows.

"You have a view that reaches all the way out to the Golden Gate Bridge," Kirschner says.

People are storing more and more stuff online: photos, music, personal documents — even books. The business of cloud storage is growing 30 percent a year, Forrester Research says. But if you're storing your digital belongings in the cloud, you should know you're giving up some rights.

A year ago, I talked to Kyle Goodwin about one of those scary computer moments — he was saving important videos from his business to an external hard drive.

"Right in the middle of a save, I knocked it off my coffee table and it hit the floor and it's destroyed," he said.

Mobile phones and computer screens can distract us from engagement in the real world and that's been especially true of video games. But, there's an innovative game being played around the globe that's designed to use the same technologies to get its players more engaged with each other and the physical world.

Candy Crush is played by trying to line up at least three of the same color of candies.

In February, an average of 144 million daily active users got sucked in to the challenge.

Candy Crush is one of more than 180 games made by King Digital Entertainment, and it alone brought in three-quarters of the company's revenue in the last quarter of 2013.

Roger Kay, president of research firm Endpoint Technologies Associates, says to a lot of investors, the game seemed like Farmville, the hit game by Zynga that Zynga can't seem to repeat.

Going back to ancient times, the aim of storytellers has been to immerse us in an experience — of another place, time or point of view. This past week at the South by Southwest film, music and technology conferences in Austin, storytellers and great technologists showed off new ways to take us beyond cinema, or TV or even traditional video games. One of the most compelling experiences came via the Oculus Rift, a set of virtual reality goggles.

Amid the thousands promoting new music at this week's SXSW festival in Austin, Texas, one artist took to the stage Tuesday to promote a new way to hear it. Before a crowd at the Austin Convention Center, Neil Young launched a Kickstarter campaign to support his long-planned high fidelity music player and online store, Pono.

An Australian record label that threatened to sue one of the world's most famous copyright attorneys for infringement has reached a settlement with him.

The settlement includes an admission that Lawrence Lessig, a Harvard Law School professor, had the right to use a song by the band Phoenix.

As has been widely reported, Apple recently discovered a critical bug in its iOS and OS systems.

The film Her, about a man who falls in love with his computerized personal assistant, has been nominated for five Oscars including best picture. It takes place at an unspecified time in the future when computer voices sound like Scarlett Johansson instead of Siri. This made me wonder if it was really possible to fall in love with an artificially intelligent being.

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates is stepping down as chairman of its board and into a new role, which the company is calling "technology adviser." The change comes as a new CEO — Satya Nadella — takes the helm. Gates says he will actually be spending a little more time at Microsoft. Microsoft watchers say if he manages his new role well, it will be good for the company.

Cinema owners who don't have a digital projector in their movie house can't show Paramount Pictures' latest release: The Wolf of Wall Street. This year Paramount became the first big studio to distribute a major release in the U.S. entirely in a digital format, and other studios are likely to follow.

You might think that retailers have to let you know right away if they get hacked and someone steals your account information.

But recent disclosures by Target and Neiman Marcus that their networks were hacked, and data about their consumers were stolen, have raised questions about how quickly merchants need to alert their customers.

In the case of Neiman Marcus, the company may have had evidence of a breach as far back as July. But the law is a bit murky on just how quickly companies need to let customers know.

Some analysts say that Nintendo's days are numbered. Holiday sales of its new console, the Wii U, have been lackluster compared to Microsoft's Xbox One and Sony's PlayStation 4.

But since Nintendo still offers some of the most popular game franchises, the love of Zelda and Mario may keep the company going for a long time.

In preparation for this story, I put out a call to talk to die-hard Nintendo fans. I was inundated with responses. Among them, Brian White, 30, grew up playing the Zelda games.

Now he's got a daughter. "We named her Zelda," he says.

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