Top film director Nolan "can't be bothered" with email or mobiles
A-list mogul behind Interstellar and the Dark Knight trilogy claims he doesn’t use personal technology in his day-to-day work – furthering a trend of industry leaders swearing off digital tools
Social media, smartphones and staff intranets have become integral parts of the modern workplace on a global level, but heavyweight filmmaker Christopher Nolan is in a vocal minority of industry leaders who avoid the use of personal technology wherever possible. In a 3 January interview with the Hollywood Reporter, the director of the Dark Knight trilogy and Interstellar – who runs powerful production firm Syncopy with his producer spouse Emma Thomas – confirmed that he has neither an email address, nor a mobile phone.
Nolan told the publication: “Well, I’ve never used email because I don’t find it would help me with anything I’m doing. I just couldn’t be bothered about it. As far as the cellphone goes, it’s like that whole thing about ‘in New York City, you’re never more than two feet from a rat’ – I’m never two feet from a cellphone. I mean, we’ll be on a [location] scout with 10 people and all of them have phones, so it’s very easy to get in touch with me when people need to.”
Known for pushing barriers artistically by driving interest in the IMAX format and using advanced special effects, Nolan confessed that not having email or a mobile phone has brought him considerable relief. “When I started in this business,” he said, “not many people had cellphones. I didn’t have one, I never bothered to get one and I’ve been very fortunate to be working continuously, so there’s always someone around me who can tap me on the shoulder and hand me a phone if they need to. I actually really like not having one because it gives me time to think. You know, when you have a smartphone and you have 10 minutes to spare, you go on it and you start looking at stuff.”
Outside the entertainment industry, former French finance minister Thierry Breton aimed to improve the culture of his workforce when he headed up tech services giant Atos in 2011. As part of his plan, he unveiled a ban on internal emails between staffers. In a BBC interview, Breton said: “I started to think they were spending too much time on internal emails and not enough time on management. So when we put all this together, I started an in-depth study with our consulting practice to see how many internal emails the 80,000 employees of Atos were receiving. We found on average it was over 100 emails per day.”
He added: “After further analysis, we realised they found 15% of the messages useful, and the rest was lost time. But they had a fear that they would miss something. We checked at work and at home also – and realised they were spending 15 to 20 hours a week checking and answering internal emails.”
Could office technology be the ultimate double-edged sword? From a management perspective, email, cloud computing and smartphones have given leaders greater power than ever to maintain quick and efficient contact with employees – and thereby a measure of control. On the other hand, though, they can increase and prolong the workload on bosses who, in theory at least, are contactable at all times to staff and clients.
And while workplace technology is likely to develop in further leaps and bounds, some old-school business players have been keen to stay in the comfort zone of traditional methods. A global survey from McKinsey last year found that while many chief executives are focusing heavily on building their digital initiatives in the quest for growth, company boards are ironically proving to be the biggest obstacle to digital progress.
Another big-name refusenik, Las Vegas casino lord Sheldon Adelson, ranks as one of the world’s richest men – but in 2011, the magnate, now 81, told Casino Enterprise Management: “I have a great person who knows the computer and she reads every single thing that I read. She takes dictation from me the old-fashioned way, and that’s the only way I like to dictate.”
One area where leaders have been particularly reticent is social media, with many either employing teams of experts to tailor messages for them, or ignoring the various platforms altogether. According to a 2014 report from CEO.com, 68% of Fortune 500 CEOs have no social-media presence.
Perhaps Nolan and his fellow digi-sceptics have shown where the wind is blowing: as we reported yesterday, hundreds of UK managers are preparing to boost their productivity in 2015 by dramatically cutting the time they spend on dealing with unnecessary emails. Expect the nation’s trash bins to fill up a lot more quickly as the year goes on.
For more on how to handle digital challenges to your work-life balance, pick up a copy of CMI Management Book of the Year category winner Winning Without Losing.