Marketplace Tech®

with Ben Johnson

About the Program

Hosted by Ben Johnson, this daily "journal of the Digital Age" airs during broadcasts of Minnesota Public Radio's Morning Edition.

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Silicon Tally: Facebook Drones

It's time for Silicon Tally! How well have you kept up with the week in tech news?

This week, we're joined by Ben Richmond, contributing editor to Vice’s Motherboard.


Women get “swatted” too

Swatting — making prank calls to 911 to send a SWAT team to someone’s home while they are online playing a video game live — has been in the news lately. (Here and here, just to name a few.)

Swatting is enabled by something else called “doxxing” or “dropping dox” - “The act of posting someone's personal and/ or identifying  information without their consent,” says Sarah Jeong, a tech reporter in Silicon Valley. That information could be anything from an address to a Social Security Number.

Swatting or doxxing, Jeong says, is the only way to hurt someone in the virtual world of gamers, where the practice is most common. “It’s assault by proxy,” she says.

The reason swatting has been getting so much attention, she believes, is the “high-profile” cases that happen on camera. That is, when someone is interrupted while playing a video game online and also live streaming themselves playing the video game.

“That’s actually a form of media that young people consume and being able to manipulate that media...imagine if, with a phone call, you could change what’s happening on your television,” says Jeong.

While getting more media attention was a major step in fixing the problem, she adds, she was also concerned that a lot of the coverage focused on men.

“Three people were swatted in January and two of them were women,” she says. “The three that I am thinking of were swatted because they were critics of Gamergate.”

“There is a wave of this kind of behaviour that is specifically focused around trying to drive out feminist voices from the internet,” says Jeong.

The only way, she says, is for the media to cover swatting more without focusing on men’s experiences alone.

“I understand that it’s hard because women don’t really want to talk about how they were doxxed and swatted,” says Jeong. “And now media thinks of swatting and doxxing as something that happens to young men by young men as opposed to it being a larger phenomenon that includes this wave of violence against women.”



Using technology to empower women in Saudi Arabia

Princess Reema Bint Bandar Al-saud, an entrepreneur and member of the Saudi Royal Family, recently traveled to SXSW Interactive in Austin to talk about how technology is empowering Saudi women. 

Born in Riyadh, Princess Reema grew up in Washington DC while her father was Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States. She is now the CEO of Alfa International, a Saudi Arabia-based luxury retailer, and she’s also a major advocate for breast cancer awareness in her country.

We sat down with her to talk about training women to work in Saudi Arabia and what role technology plays in society.

Tell me about educating women about navigating the complexities of the workplace in a country where women's rights are still quite restricted?

What we’re doing is training the frontline of employees to be able to have the skillsets to learn to work. Because if you train someone how to use the cash register but you don’t actually train her how to use HR or train her how how to engage in dialogue with her coworkers, she's not actually going to be a very successful salesperson. But it’s not a skillset that’s given. You have to learn it. Just to give you a heads up. I might have been the CEO of the company but it took me two years to ask for a salary.

So you weren’t being paid?

No. But I also didn’t ask. And you should have seen the horrified faces on the board when they realised. They were like, "what do you mean you haven’t been paid?" I was like, "well, who am I supposed to talk to?" Now take that down to a woman that has no exposure and no experience. So I want to make sure nobody goes through that.

Do you think new technology plays a role at all in helping to make that happen?

Yes. Because everybody is talking to everybody and everyone is listening to everybody right now. It’s not second hand. It’s not tomorrow. It’s not next week. If you said it today, I can read it today. And so you can actually action change very fast these days. I think.

You know, you’re referencing social media in some ways right?   


Are there complexities to that when it comes to how it happens in your country?

Yes, because you're not talking to one group of people. We’re talking to five different generations simultaneously. And when you’re talking to five different generations, who are you looking out for in the change that you’re making?

Do you think people are fully comfortable being totally honest on social media?

I think it depends on what subject and what topic and what environment. I mean, I can tell you: religion? Don’t touch it. And it’s just about my right to say it. Somebody has to hear it so be more conscientious in the words that you use.

But at the same time I feel like you’re hinting that there's a lot of positive coming out of this?

Amazing positivity. Because half the people that I have connected to that are making 10 KSA  happen are people that are engaging with us on social media. I can tell you one thing that blew my mind.  

Yeah, please.

WhatsApp. When we were launching our social media, I sent out 500 WhatsApp messages and then I went on to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and I am like "oh, my god!" 70 people, 120, 45...I am like, "oh, my god, it is now already a global message."

What’s your favorite iPhone app?

Instagram! I love Instagram. I am like the queen of Instagram.

What do you Instagram?

I travel a lot for work. And I find it so much easier to post a picture than to send 50 emails, send a 100 text messages or write something on Facebook. I really don’t want to say too much. I just want you to know where I am and what I have seen and that I have seen something great.


All the news that's fit to print...on Facebook

The New York Times is reporting that Facebook is in talks with a group of news organizations that might start publishing their content directly on the social network. Right now, publishers post links to Facebook that bring users to the original content on the publisher's websites.

This new kind of arrangement could have big implications for the publishing partners, which reportedly include the New York Times. And Mike Isaac, technology reporter at the Times and broke this story, says one big change could be an impact to the advertising model. 

Click the media player above to hear more.


Your yard is getting smarter, too

The internet of things is coming to your front lawn...literally. The market for devices that can connect your yard may be new, but it’s already rather interesting.

“ It all comes down to sensor technology,” says Lindsey Turrentine, editor-in-chief at “Sensors are getting small and cheap, and now they can be embedded in things like the ‘Eden.’”

The ‘Eden,” Turrentine says, is similar to a large stake that goes into the soil, and is powered by solar energy. Once it’s in the soil, it monitors soil and plants to keep track of nutrients, moisture, and whatever else you may need to know to maintain your yard.

“You can also partner it up with a smart valve,” says Turrentine. The valve connects to a hose or watering device, which helps ‘Eden’ turn on the water when it determines that the plants need water.

What else might  be in store for smart yards in the future?  

“These companies are just starting to figure out the answers to really tough problems,” says Turrentine. “How do you get your outdoor sensors to work over your home wifi? How do you keep water from damaging these devices?"

As they solve these problems, she says, more such devices will start to appear in the market.

“These things are going to be much more accessible in probably five years, maybe ten,” says Turrentine.



What a school science project looks like in 2015

Students from across America will be demonstrating science projects at the White House’s fifth annual science fair on Monday. With technology transforming what’s possible in the classroom, President Barack Obama will be introduced to a rather impressive line-up, which includes research that seeks to identify cures for cancer and ebola, as well as an “urban” wheelchair with parts from a 3D-printer.

“A lot of the change has come through the use of technology, and really, through the apps that have been developed for tablets and cell phones,” says Norm Brennan, a science teacher at the Mirman school in Los Angeles. Brennan, who was the California State Science Fair Teacher of the Year in 2014, has been teaching for 20 years now.

“I had one group of boys who used an iPhone app for G-forces," he says. “They were testing the impact of helmets and concussions and putting jell forces to see how that would lessen the effect using an app on an iPhone.”

Then there was a student who used a 3D printer to print a prosthetic arm, which was robotically controlled by putting hooking it up to a glove. Another student developed an app that microbiologists can use to count the number of microbes in a given colony. "Instead of counting them by hand you can take an image through an ipad and it counts for you,” says Brennan. 

Funding is sometimes an issue, he admits, but since he teaches at a private school, parents sometimes help out. The school is also planning on applying for grants that fund science or STEM-based projects, Brennan adds.

Science fairs, he says, have certainly come a long way since he was a student. Back then, he was studying the impact of magnetic waves on a colony of ants on the move, so he placed magnets in an ant-infested area and waited to see what would happen.

“It had no effect on them,” he says. “They walked right by.”



Silicon Tally: Where's my tax refund?

It's time for Silicon Tally! How well have you kept up with the week in tech news?

This week, we're joined by David Gura, senior reporter for Marketplace in our Washington D.C. bureau. We're celebrating his last day at Marketplace, as he leaves for Bloomberg TV.


Astro Teller talks about making room for failure

This week, Marketplace Tech is exploring South by Southwest Interactive, the tech-oriented event that draws tens of thousands of people to Austin, Texas every year.

We caught up Astro Teller, scientist, author and head of Google X, aka its “Captain of Moonshots.” Teller runs Google’s mysterious research facility tasked with achieving major breakthroughs in technology. He spoke with us about the culture at Google X, the ideas they have had to let go, and the single piece of technology he is waiting for.

So you’re the head of one of the most famously mysterious places in the tech world. What’s the most different thing about it as a workplace?

The talk that I just gave here at SXSW was about failure. And I think that subject is one of the things that’s sort of the Google X special sauce. We actually have a culture where doing the experimenting is the learning; is the innovation.

Not only okay but encouraged?

I am not sure that there is an alternative.

What’s the craziest idea that you guys completely passed on and are not doing anything about?

I am just throwing out random examples but...the first couple I can think of. Someone said, hey, I wonder how much power there is in an avalanche? So we’re like, do the math and is that practical? You know...throw that one out after half-an-hour. But that was worth doing. Someone else says, hey, what if we put a coil of copper around the North Pole and then harvest the magnetic flux of the earth’s core as it joggles back and forth, which will cause a current in that wire of copper and we can pipe that back down to Europe or something.

Bad idea? Not a good idea?

Several hours before we threw that out. But if you ever say to those people, that’s stupid, they will never bring you another idea.

Do you think culture then is more important than ideas?

It’s everything.

At one time, Google’s model was, “Don’t be evil.” I mean, is that a part of your thinking when you're talking about putting giant coils of metal on the North Pole?

Of course. Actually that issue of “don't be evil” is probably the number one reason we throw out ideas. It’s not just, “don’t be evil”, which is still the sort of inform mode for Google. We want to actively make the world...


If we can, a radically better place...That’s an even higher bar and that cuts off a bunch of avenues that we might otherwise have gone down. Maybe that even would have been lucrative. But what we lose in those ways, we more than make up for because everybody at Google X gets to be passionate and purpose-driven. And it translates into a special kind of progress.

How do you define the culture in terms of being good? I mean is that a challenge as well?

We don’t have some message from god that gives us a list of what's good and what’s not good. Obviously we have to make our own flawed judgments about each thing. But when we try to make a car that drives itself, we believe - whether we’re right or not - we believe that there would be strong net positive benefit to the world if cars could drive themselves safer than people could.

What’s a piece of technology that you wish you had that you don’t have?

We have started a few projects that are sort of shells. They are like projects waiting to happen but we don't have an idea but we are so desperate to do that project. Batteries is one of them. It comes up over and over and over again that a ten times increase in the weight-oriented density of batteries or the volume metric, the space oriented density of batteries, would enable so many other moonshots that that’s one that just constantly comes up over and over again and we will start that moonshot if we can find a great idea. We just haven’t found one yet. So it's just sitting there like an empty box, waiting.



John Maeda on why good design takes decades

This week Marketplace Tech is exploring South by Southwest Interactive, the tech-oriented event that draws tens of thousands of people to Austin, Texas every year.

We spoke with designer John Maeda, who is at SXSW to talk about designing for the tech industry. A graduate of MIT and former president of the Rhode Island School of Design, Maeda is now a design partner at the Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers. He talked with us about his first Macintosh, the tech industry's diversity problem, and how design can make technology more accessible.

The year you started at MIT — 1984 — is the year that the Apple Macintosh came out and your parents got you one?

Sure did. Brought a Macintosh to MIT and people made fun of me.

Did they?

Oh yeah.

Because you were a weirdo?

At MIT we are all weirdos so that’s okay. It’s the fact that the Mac didn't look like a computer. It had pictures on it.

How did that piece of technology influence your approach to design?

I remember the time I first touched a Mac and it was so much faster at graphics processing. I could draw an ellipse. Drawing ellipse used to take like ... sitting there [saying] "Ahh, draw that ellipse!" And the Mac was flowing with you.

In your role at Kleiner Perkins, you work with companies to build and design from the beginning. At what point in that process do people start to notice good design?

People's first notion of design is ... pretty stuff. And if you're there, I have to get them out of that. It’s about taking an idea and giving it a system behind it because design doesn't happen by buying a part. It happens by having people who can design.

Is there a design solution for the tech industry’s diversity problem?

Well, it’s a systems problem, really. The question is how do you design the system to enable people from different backgrounds to participate?

How do you do that?

Let me give an example. When you recruit for a more diverse student base, you forget that a diverse population will not stay on your campus if there aren't more role models like themselves. I would argue often at MIT, even at RISD, we need more people, more faculty around to role model for. So that’s a systems approach.

What’s a piece of technology that you really enjoy using, that you interact with and you just really appreciate the design of, that’s not a laptop, a smartphone, [and so on]?

Anything we use with our hands is going to feel good. Like a spoon or chopsticks or our glasses. Why do they feel so good? We've spent hundreds of year improving those ... So when we think technology is hard to use we have to remember, it’s like a decades worth of experimentation. So it’s going to get better. It’ll take time.

What role do you think design plays in getting people to adopt new technology? Something that people might even be a little bit skeptical of?

Technology, by nature, we fear because it’s hard to do something new. It’s easier for younger people because they don’t know they are going to die. Older people are like "I am so done with that, I’d rather have fun instead of figuring that new thing out," right? Young people [are like] "Who cares," right? So design helps to bridge that gap. It makes it more interesting. But I want to caution, because design that’s just about desire — the "wow" — is not enough. My friend who designs for Muji — the brand Muji in Japan — talks about how he designs for what’s called the “after-wow” effect. The “after-wow” is: You've bought it, you bring it home, you've had it for a month, you’re sitting there and saying, "Wow, that’s really awesome."

How does one create that? What’s he doing?

I am glad you asked that question. It takes time. Taking time is what is so difficult in the tech industry, which moves so fast.

What are the the tensions of that working in a VC firm?

A lot of my role is to create time for people, to be able to advocate for: "Hey, you know, this design needs more time or this design team is really getting there, so let’s support that," which I find is important.


Fighting the "nerd" stereotypes

HBO's "Silicon Valley" is about a lot of things: being an underdog, funding a business, succeeding in a competitive field. But it's also about being a techie, and the way in which the world sometimes labels you a "nerd." And as actor and comedian Thomas Middleditch points out, television and film have not always been kind when portraying nerds. 


We caught up with him on the streets of Austin during SXSW Interactive. For his part, Middleditch is proud of the research that goes into accurately portraying Silicon Valley. For him, it means the poking fun at the people in the tech industry is earned. And if anyone engrossed in start-up culture is paying attention, he also points out they can learn a lot from improv comedy when it comes to improving their approach to working with others.

Click below for an extended cut of our conversation with Thomas Middleditch:

Silicon Valley premiered at last year's SXSW Interactive conference, and is gearing up for a season 2 premiere on April 12th. 


Alison Bechdel on storytelling "for the forces of good"

This week Marketplace Tech is exploring South by Southwest Interactive, the tech-oriented event that draws tens of thousands of people to Austin, Texas every year.

We spoke with cartoonist and memoirist Alison Bechdel, who came to SXSW to talk about telling stories that work “for the forces of good.” For 25 years, Bechdel chronicled the lesbian community in her comic strip "Dykes To Watch Out For." Since then, she has published her second graphic memoir, won a MacArthur Fellowship, and watched the Bechdel test take on a life of its own. We talked with her about record-keeping, Google image search,and putting Silicon Valley through the Bechdel test.

I want to ask you something about record keeping. This is something you have done since you were a kid. Diaries, pictures, stuff like that. It’s informed your work. How do you keep records now?

A lot of my record keeping is now digital. I’ve got email, photos and I keep my diary on my computer. Somehow that doesn't make it any easier to find anything. I thought it would but...

Do you have a folder that says "diary"?

I do. Sort of, yeah. My archives are just proliferating. The older I get, the more stuff there is. It's sort of like my aging brain. It gets harder to find stuff.

Do memoirs matter in a world where Facebook summarizes your year for you every year?

Well, yeah. you can't reflect meaningfully on something that you're posting in half a second. I think memoir is still really an important act.

I want to ask about your process a little bit. How has technology changed the cartoonist’s job since you’ve started?

Oh man. It’s changed it on every level, profoundly. I started way before the internet, way before photoshop when I drew stuff by hand and you copied at the copy shop and put it in the mail. I think the most profound shift for me has been Google Image Search. If you wanted to find out what a 1968 Oldsmobile looked like, you had to go to the picture file at the library where someone hopefully had clipped out a photo of that car. Now that I can draw anything in the universe, my tendency is to want to draw everything in the universe, which is its own sort of problem, but I’m working on that.

Do you get more sleep now that you’re a MacArthur “genius?” Or did you get more sleep before?

I definitely got more sleep before. It’s a very nerve-wracking experience. I am still adjusting to it. But it’s really making me feel like I better up my game.

What are your plans for upping your game?

I don’t know. I’m just working. I’m trying to work harder.

This is something you’re probably very bored of talking about, but I wanted to ask you about the…

The Bechdel test


This is my great legacy.

How do you feel about that?

At first I was sort of bewildered by it and didn’t feel like it was really mine. It was an idea I stole from someone else who probably stole it from Virginia Woolf. But now I am very proud of it. I feel like it reflects the idea that a woman can be a human, a fully human character and subject.

You may have heard that there is a diversity problem in the tech industry.

Oh really...

This may come as a shock to you. But I wanted to ask you if you would consider what a Bechdel test might be for a company?

Are there more than two women in managing positions?

We would hope so.

Do they talk to each other? I don’t know. But it’s a good template that you can apply to any  number of fields.

I think we are at a good moment right now. In the tech industry but also in the media. We are becoming more aware of white male hegemony. How do straight white men help to create a society where there is more power sharing with people outside of their group?

The fact that we are even able to see this, that people are aware of it is because that hegemony is not as hegemonic as it once was. The demographics of this country are really changing. I guess just to examine your privilege. It’s very hard to see what privilege is. We all want to believe that we deserve everything we have. And we don’t all have the same chances. So just looking carefully at that, I think, is the most anyone can do.

We’re asking people while we're here about their pitch...

Yeah. I am on a panel about storytelling and I want to talk about what makes a story good. Not just a compelling story, but what makes a story a story that works for the forces of good.

What is a story that works for the forces of good?

Oh, anything. You know most things. Advertising, propaganda...I think it’s important for any kind of story, especially journalism or non-fiction storytelling, to allow for its own possibility of being wrong.


Former AOL CEO Steve Case on the web's 'third wave'

This week Marketplace Tech is exploring South by Southwest Interactive, the tech-oriented event that draws tens of thousands of people to Austin, Texas. That audience comes to talk about what’s next in tech and to pitch their ideas.

Steve Case is no exception. The billionaire and AOL CEO turned venture capitalist is here to advocate for tech hubs outside of Silicon Valley. We sat down with him to talk about the past, present and future of the Internet.

Twenty years ago, AOL had just hit 1 million subscribers. That feels like centuries ago, not decades ago.

It was a long time ago. I agree with that. And we had actually been at it for more than a decade at that point. We started AOL 30 years ago this year. At the time only 3 percent of people were online, and they were only online an hour a week. It’s also worth remembering it wasn't until 1982 that it was even legal for people to connect to the Internet. The first wave of the Internet in the 70s and 80s was restricted to government use and university use, so scientists and educators and bureaucrats could use it, but real people couldn't.

What’s shocked you about the way the online world has changed since you first got in the game?

Well actually, what shocked me the first time was it actually took longer than I thought for the idea to take hold. PC manufacturers didn't want to build in communications modems, because they thought, “Most people don’t want this, so why would we add that?”

Every start up needs a true believer

Every concept needs a tribe of true believers.

Speaking of which, talk to me about Washington

Well Washington, actually, is emerging very quickly as a hot start-up center. It was not true 30 years ago when we started AOL in Virginia, across the river from D.C., and now you see the debates around net neutrality and other things, and the government role is heating up again. I think key parts of our economy are going to require more interaction with the government as a regulator and a customer. The government spends more money on learning and health than any other organization. It’s going to require a different kind of entrepreneur.

You mention net neutrality. How do you feel about that issue? Where do you come down on it?

I think it’s important. AOL could not have been possible without breaking up the phone company. The key ruling there said that companies like AOL could connect to the telecom system. Up until then, they couldn't.

Is Facebook the next AOL?

In some ways it is, because our core was always people. Facebook has taken that baton and developed a strategy with a broad global footprint that’s really been quite impressive.

It seems like they’re trying to build a place where you go to do everything. In the early days it seems like AOL was similar. You were going into a space that was controlled by one company, even if there was plenty of community within that space.

That’s partially true. Our strategy was really to be the Internet and a whole lot more.

Were most of your users getting outside of it?

In the early years the vast majority of the use was custom services that were exclusive to AOL. Over time the broader Internet services got more traction. But even when I stopped running the company 15 years ago, the majority of the services used were the services that were part of the AOL package of unique services.

Tell me about the third wave of the Internet.

The first wave was 1985 to 2000. That was really building the Internet. And the second phase, over the last 15 years, has been building on top of the Internet. But the next phase, the third wave, is going to be integrating the Internet more seamlessly and pervasively in our everyday lives.

We’re asking a lot of people what they’re here to pitch. What’s your pitch?

It’s really what we've been talking about. I think there’s a new wave of innovation that’s about to break. And it’s going to be around this third wave of the Internet, which is disrupting sectors like education and healthcare and energy. If you’re an entrepreneur in St. Louis or Des Moines or Minneapolis or Pittsburgh, you’re gonna have great opportunities to build companies on the back of these trends, but you need to know what battle you’re gearing up for.

And, because we couldn’t resist...


Silicon Tally: SXSW Edition

It's time for Silicon Tally! How well have you kept up with the week in tech news?

This week, we're joined by Will Hurley, also known as Whurley, CEO of Honest Dollar.


How to make an educational game kids want to play

There are plenty of serious conversations taking place this week at SXSWedu in Austin — student data, social learning, digital citizenship, online degrees.

But there is also a lot of serious talk about games, and how they can be used to help engage kids and improve learning. In 2013, the market for educational games was about $1.5 billion and growing rapidly. 

Rule No. 1: No chocolate-covered broccoli. That’s according to Phaedra Boinodiris, global lead for serious games and gamification at IBM. 

“You enter into the realm of what I call ‘chocolate-covered broccoli’ if you do it wrong,” she says. 

To Boinodiris, chocolate-covered broccoli is the thinly disguised, anti-fun. In other words, educational games still need to feel likes games. And that means something at stake, something to win. 

"Brain Chase" is an online educational treasure hunt for kids to complete over the summer, using geography and math skills to find a real “buried treasure”: a $10,000 scholarship. 

Founder Allan Staker says violence isn’t an option in educational games, so developers have to rely on something else to keep kids interested. 

“You have to start with a quest, get them in the shoes of a protagonist,” he says.

During the Brain Chase game, participants had to use a compass, map and clues from video prompts to help their fellow adventurers escape a cryptic hedge maze.

Kelsey Fowler/Marketplace
 Without having “Grand Theft Middle School,” Staker says, the answer is unsurprisingly, treasure.

Paul Darvasi, a high school English teacher in Toronto, says during the last month of the year, he turns his class into the psych ward from Ken Kesey’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” 

“My students are put into the role of mental patients, and I take on multiple roles either through videos, or live performances as the faculty that’s running the mental ward,” he says. 

Darvasi uses Twitter and Facebook to post challenges, questions and quests for his students. 

“A really interesting thing about Keasy’s novel is his critique of the industrial elements of the mental institution coincide well with the critiques of the education system,” he says.

Shawn Young shows off his creation Classcraft, a role-playing game designed to increase collaboration and engagement in the classroom.

Courtesy of Classcraft

Brothers Shawn and Devin Young of the role-playing game "Classcraft" say introducing games into the classroom faces the same challenges introducing new technology in schools has always faced: finding the money in the budget.

“There are a lot of great, empowering things about video games and using them to motivate and learn,” Shawn Young says.


Drones have still got a long way to go

Could drones solve some of Africa’s infrastructure problems? Afrotech, a Swiss company, seems to think so.

Transporting smaller cargo through the skies via drones, for instance, could be cheaper than investing in railways or roads right away.  So starting next year the company will test cargo drones that can carry small packages across 50 miles.

The idea isn’t that unusual, says Matthew Wall, a technology and business reporter for BBC who's covering Afrotech. “There are already these quadcopter drones ... These are these helicopter-style drones which can carry small packages.”

They can also be programmed to pick up small packages, he added.

But, it would take a while for this to happen over long distances. For one, we don’t have the battery technology to power drones for more than 50 miles. And the drones themselves aren’t strong or light enough to transport most cargo.

“That’s going to take some ten years at least I think before we see these things across the skies,” said Wall.


Social and emotional learning emerges at SXSWedu

Marketplace reporter Adriene Hill has been in Austin this week, covering SXSWedu with the LearningCurve team. She spoke with Tech's Ben Johnson about the emergence of social and emotional learning as a trend at this year’s event.

Hunter Gehlbach, associate professor at Harvard Graduate School of Education, says "human skills" are a trending topic at SXSWedu because, “at our core, we are fundamentally social creatures," he says.

"So if students are preoccupied with this fundamental need that they don’t feel like they belong, that they’re being bullied, those kinds of things, there’s no way that they’re going to pay attention to what’s going on in the classroom," Gehlbach says.

More research is finding that strengthening social and emotional skills can help kids learn. The focus stems from digital citizenship, and a desire to encourage kids to take a step back from their constantly connected, tech-infused, app-filled world.

Mindfulness instructor and former teacher Erin Sharaf says social and emotional learning can look different depending on how students learn best:

“It might look like students sitting on the floor doing postures that look like yoga; it might look like a bell ringing and their task right now is just to listen to the bell. It might look like eating a raisin, and really being fully present with that raisin, and actually noticing what it tastes like instead of thinking about the math lesson that they have to do next or the fight that they had at home before they came into the classroom,” she says.


Erin Sharef / Hunter Gehlbach

But there are applications of technology in this social and emotional space as well. Gelhbach brings up a virtual reality project in the works that allows kids to experience multiple perspectives of a bullying situation, and says tech is helping researchers like him get better data — and use it in better ways — to help show these social skills can improve learning.



Oh, the panels you'll see!

Oh, SXSW InteractiveThat springtime gathering of over 30,000 members of the tech community in Austin, Texas to eat tacos and present new technologies.

In an environment that encourages cheekiness and experimentation, you'll find the seeds of good ideas: Facebook launched Facebook Connect, an early version of its mobile app, at SXSW in 2009. You'll also find spectacles that make you squirm, like the "Homeless Hotspots" program during the festival in 2012.

This is the technology industry's hype machine in overdrive. It's a five day flurry of buzzwords and gamification. 

And this year's conference does not disappoint on that front. Attendees can look forward to Katie Notopoulos' panel "Hamburger Helper Is My Bae: Weird Brand Twitter". Or maybe "2 Girls Are Crying and I'm Not: Improv in Any Career" is more your speed. True to form, SXSW Interactive has its share of great content with even better names.

Remember last year, when attendees sat through panels like "Interactive Avatars & All of the Doxxing"? Do you remember live-streaming "Live Pixels & The Tipping Point of Bikesharing"? Well, you shouldn't. Because these panels never happened.

Back by popular demand, the Marketplace SXSW panel generator is here to help you make your own very own fake panel which you can use to hack your way to an optimized experience. Let us help you create the Tinder of panels; the Uber of keynote speeches; the Yik Yak of Winklevoss twins. Then click the little blue bird to tweet us your favorites.

And while you're there, feel free to tweet us any questions you have for the Marketplace Tech team while we're down south in Austin. Use #SXMP, and we'll do our best to get you some answers.


Why you might want to wait for Apple Watch 2

We finally know more about Apple Watch than we did in September, when Apple first unveiled its line of smartwatches. But details are still somewhat scarce.

As Lindsey Turrentine, Editor-in-Chief at, points out, the event hosted by Apple Inc. on Monday revealed, “Maybe a little more detail about how it works over wifi but not a lot more about what this watch can do that your phone cannot." 

The watches will range from $350 to $17, 000, depending on whether you want aluminum and glass, stainless steel or rose gold.

Apple can get away without giving additional details on features, Turrentine says, because this is still a first generation product.

“Apple is really good at making second generation products,” she says. “And the first generation products are all about convincing you that it’s cool.”

The real goal, she adds, is to “test the waters.” That is, to get it out to people and see how each feature fares. Sell it to “the influencers,” as Turrentine calls them, who will make it seem cool.

“And when they come around with the second generation that does a lot more, people will be in a position to know what it is, and feel like maybe they are ready to fork out some money,” says Turrentine. At least, that’s her theory.

But she is confident that people will buy it.

“People will buy it because they are curious and that’s a totally legitimate reason to buy something,” she says



Google’s new Googley Office

A Ringling Brothers circus on steroids. That’s how Will Oremus, a senior technology writer at Slate, describes Google’s recently unveiled blueprint for its new headquarters in Mountain View, California.

“The whole thing will just be as Googley as you might imagine,” says Oremus, who looked over the plans recently. By that he means a series of dome-like structures made of transparent glass, modular offices with roofs that can be moved, bike paths, creeks and plenty of greenery.

Fitness, of course, is a huge part of Google’s work culture, and that too finds a place in these plans. Oremus remembers seeing a schematic of a group of people practicing yoga. "They have the sweeping view of the bay,” he says. “It’s like they are on display to the entire world. Just showing how fit and healthy and really utopian Google employees’ lives are.”

The reason Google and other Silicon Valley companies invest so much in what their offices look or feel like, Oremus says, is they want this to be their employees’ “first home.”

“It’s just a way to try and wring as much productivity out of these employees as they can,” says Oremus. All these perks that come with the job are also selling points, he adds, given the current demand for engineers and developers in Silicon Valley.

But the city of Mountain View is not buying into Google’s “utopian” headquarters that easily. Community leaders have already expressed concerns over what this new development will do to the suburban city.

“These cities have seen what happens with this tech boom and bust cycle,” says Oremus.

That is, when it goes bust, the city is left with built up office space, and a depressed economy. And, when things are going great, they have to deal with the rising property prices and the increased activityincluding trafficthat a company this large would bring.

Oremus thinks the city of Mountain View won’t give up without getting some concession out of Google.

“I don't think you’ll end up seeing quite the utopian vision Google has come to reality in Mountain View,” he says.


Silicon Tally: Love me Tinder, Love me Sweet

It's time for Silicon Tally! How well have you kept up with the week in tech news?

This week, we're joined by Katie Notopoulos, senior editor at Buzzfeed.


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