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 December 2011

December 2011

 

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Brainiacs

Meet the Martha Stewart of Technology

Pat Mazzera

East Bay Mom Demystifies High-Tech for America from Her Kitchen Table

     Since the beginning, inquisitive humans have asked life’s most provocative
questions. Is the world flat? Can humans fly? Can the sun be an energy source? Can caffeinated pants really help you lose weight?
    OK, so the questions have changed a little over the years. But the desire for answers prevails. Which is why to many Becky
Worley is as hot a commodity as the Slanket.
    As tech reporter for ABC’s New York–based Good Morning America since 2006, this hands-on, high-energy, high-tech blond brainiac has been referred to as the Martha Stewart of Technology. From her own kitchen in her Oakland hills home, this down-to-earth, active mother of twins uses her background, adventurous nature and savvy sense of what’s worth a retail whirl to demystify consumer innovations. Her humorous 90-second to six-minute weekly (or more) segments can be a kick to watch, but listen carefully. You could miss cutting-edge information from the latest iPhone apps to whether the NoNo Hair Removal system is a no-no.
    “Skype is a beautiful thing,” says Worley, 40, who chats on air with GMA’s George Stephanopoulos and Robin Roberts from her kitchen computer, often with unseen Legos and Dr. Seuss books at her feet. She credits her own “engineer brain” for having thought up and proposed the concept. “I am totally lucky to work at home and be able to spend 5 or 6 hours a day with my kids and still work a full day as a network news reporter. Who gets that luxury? I have the best job in the universe.”
   It’s an enviable job indeed, giving “telecommuting” a new meaning. But no one said it’s easy. Those quickies a viewer could miss in a trip to the john take a good couple of days to research and shoot. Segment ideas come from producers or viewer requests on Facebook or Twitter. Some are outrageous. The folks at GMA give her props. As co-anchor Roberts puts it, Worley is often “taking one for the team,” once spending 30 minutes in a “spa capsule” that claimed to shed 500 calories in temps upward of 180 degrees. Worse, it didn’t work.
   “Becky tackles each assignment at GMA — no matter what it is — with the same level of passion, dedication and unique sense of humor,” Roberts says. “From gadgets to infomercial products to online safety, I always trust what she has to say. And she’s incredibly convincing. She even got me to try out the Hawaii chair [a gadget for wiggling your way to fitness] live on
the air!”
   Worley is no pansy. If anyone can take it, this outdoorsy former Rugby player raised in rural Maui can. After receiving her bachelor’s degree from Vermont’s Middlebury College in 1993, the avid fly fisherman dreamed of doing a TV reality fishing program. Lucky for her, she says, it didn’t fly. Her early reporting career included six years as an anchor and how-to host for ZDTV/TechTV’s Stories of Real People Protecting Themselves from Identity Theft, Viruses and Scams. She has since done TV gigs way more challenging than testing the latest weight-loss gizmos.
   In 2004 she hosted a series on the National Geographic Channel called Mother of All, a show in which fine arts and industrial arts melded, and random materials were used to make the “Mother of All” things. The next year, before GMA, she happened upon a Travel Channel show that drug her through the backcountry of the U.S. called The Best Places to Find Cash and Treasure.
    “Boy do you travel when you work for the Travel Channel,” Worley says. “I was never home and it was brutal, because it wasn’t like I was staying in the Ritz or the Four Seasons. I slept in my car, stayed at bad motels and ate beef jerky for dinner. Seeing those parts of the U.S. was awesome, but the pace and the rough and raggedness of it burnt me out.”
   It’s no wonder she prefers her commute from her bedroom to her kitchen. And when fieldwork is necessary, she stays primarily in the Bay Area, using San Francisco or Silicon Valley as her metropolitan hubs rather than New York.
   “I just couldn’t live in Manhattan and
do that commute,” Worley says. “I feel so lucky to live in a place this beautiful and
mellow and not have to always be in that chaotic world.”  
   Twice a month she does do 24-hour whirlwind trips to New York. But she spends much more time crouched down in her closet under her shoetree, escaping squealing toddlers to do voice-overs for the show amid heels, flats and sneakers.
   While Worley’s work keeps her finger on the pulse of technology, her leisure time is relatively tech-free. You’re more apt to find her hiking, running, walking dogs, visiting horse stables or the park with the kids. Her girl-next-door approachability helps her blend in with the locals without being recognized much, despite doing 88 GMA TV segments last year alone. Worley raves that Oakland, with its abundant trails and unlimited accesses to kid activities, has been the perfect venue for the natural lifestyle she and her partner, Jane Mitchell, strive to provide their twin son and daughter.
   In fact, the tech expert has strong views about children and technology. With a master’s degree in education and technology from Stanford in 2005, she knows full and well that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no electronic technology such as computers, gaming, iPods or even TV before the age of 2. But even she says that’s not realistic. Her own little ones were marveling at and taking pictures on her phone much earlier than that and definitely watching the tube.  
    “There have been studies that show 3-year-old children who use certain apps show learning and cognition improvement through technology,” Worley says. “Personally, I see technology for toddlers and preschoolers as a toy, not a learning tool. I give my kids access to the iPad, iPhone or TV with the same sense of moderation and restraint, treating them as rewards. But there are those days and times when I’m like, OK, kids, have at it.”
   And those days may be more often than she’d like. Worley also does a similar program for Yahoo!News called Upgrade Your Life. These 2-minute online segments also emphasize solutions to high-tech problems from improving your Wi-Fi range to whether or not the dishwasher can handle a load
of clothes.
   “Becky is an incredible talent,” says Anna Robertson, head of Yahoo! Studios, “demystifying our gadgets, computers and tech headaches to make viewers’ lives simpler and better. She indeed is becoming the Martha Stewart of Technology.”
   This able female in a still-male-dominated field loves what she does. She’s been tech-infatuated since college when she’d whip
up fake IDs on a MAC Classic to get into
frat parties.
   Whatever the tech future holds, Worley hopes to see the following philosophy realized: Technology shouldn’t be more prevalent, bigger, better nor different; instead, technology should penetrate more deeply across the digital divide so that people of all economic and social backgrounds have access to what actually applies to their lives.
    “My goal is to empower people to not have tech-inferiority complexes,” she says. “In the past, technology was created by and for people with engineer brains. That is changing. All learning styles are being considered today and so new technology is becoming more user-friendly. I wish to empower people    to reach out, grab it and use it.”
Worley’s personal goal is this: resist checking Twitter and Facebook and make even more time for what’s most important to her — family and friends. To be more mindful of what’s worth savoring in her life with fewer deadlines. That’s when she’s happiest.
   “I just have to remind myself that I work so hard so I can goof off every once in a while,” Worley says. “Everybody needs that. Meanwhile, as long as innovators keep innovating and inquisitive humans keep wondering about the newest iPhone or if a self-closing toilet can save your relationship, the Martha Stewart of Technology will continue to bring her infectious smile and high-tech knowledge into the homes of millions of Americans, as she sits perfectly coiffed at her kitchen computer, unbeknownst to viewers, in pajama pants.
 

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