Emma Thompson wields a fierce wand when co-starring in Harry Potter movies, jets around the world and hobnobs with Bill Gates at Davos. But don’t ask her to reboot a laptop. The actress’ favorite piece of technology, she told Forbes.com, is the fountain pen.
Thompson’s in good company. There’s no shortage of celebrities who disdain social networking sites, “don’t do” e-mail and eschew even practical gadgets like computers and cellphones.
Some, like President George Bush, are restricted by their office from indulging. Others see technology as yet another intrusion into their paparazzi-filled lives. And still others don’t understand how to use gadgets or shun them as health hazards.
In other words, celebrities are just like us–with two exceptions. Their wealth and status enables them to avoid technology with no ill consequences. (Can’t reach Angelina by e-mail? Her people will make sure she gets the message another way.) The other difference: It’s much more entertaining when celebrities complain about technology than when your mom does.
Take Vince Vaughn. In November 2007, the actor told MTV that he doesn’t own a cellphone, explaining he doesn’t like getting calls. Instead, he relies on the buddy system, borrowing a friend’s cellphone when necessary. “I am an annoying friend that way,” he confessed.
Some tech-free celebs are recovering tech addicts. Tyra Banks told New York Times Magazine that her BlackBerry habit caused her physical pain. She has since gone low-tech and jots her thoughts in a notebook.
Technophobia, of course, extends far beyond cellphones. Christopher Walken and David Sedaris don’t use cellphones or e-mail. Simon Cowell says he doesn’t know how to work a computer. President Bush was lampooned in 2006 for saying he uses “the Google” to look at maps of his Texas ranch. He reportedly doesn’t use e-mail for fear that his messages might be subpoenaed. Recently, however, his 84-year-old father, George H.W. Bush Sr., said that he enjoys e-mailing.
Paul McCartney has admitted he doesn’t know how to use ATMs and prefers writing letters over e-mail for “aesthetic” reasons. Elton John is nostalgic for the low-tech vibe of the 1970s. The singer frequently talks about the Internet’s stifling effect on community and creativity and even suggested to U.K. paper The Sun that the Internet be shut down for five years to spark better quality art and music.
Technophobia isn’t simply generational. Some young celebrities strive to be tech free, too.
Thirty-one-year-old Orlando Bloom has revealed that he doesn’t e-mail or own a computer, because he “just [doesn’t] want to deal with it.”
A few celebrities manage to be plugged in without being wired. Jolie often jokes about her lack of technology skills, saying that partner Brad Pitt helps her navigate computers. Jolie’s admission is surprising, says Heather Dale, editor of gadget blog GeekSugar. “She’s so up on the news and involved, and it doesn’t seem like she would want to be dependent on anyone for tech help,” explains Dale. “She must get her news from newspapers and other traditional media.”
Larry King, despite knowledgeably chatting up guests every night on his talk show, says he has never done an Internet search. As if to prove his techno-ignorance, he once asked guest Roseanne Barr, “What do you punch [on the Internet], little buttons and things?”
Technophobia does have its benefits, at times. When Billy Bob Thornton’s former sister-in-law accused him of harassing her via e-mail, his rep defended him by noting, “Billy doesn’t use e-mail and never has.”
Fictional celebrities can be technophobes, too. In the new Sex and the City film, Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) fumbles with a borrowed iPhone before returning it, unused, out of frustration.
Some technophobes appear to be making their peace with gadgets. Jessica Alba famously said last year, “I don’t have a MySpace thingy.” But in January, she created a MySpace profile and began blogging sporadically on it. Since hooking up with husband Cash Warren, who heads an Internet video start-up called IBeatYou.com, Alba has ventured further online to help promote the venture. In one video, viewed more than 4 million times on YouTube, Alba gazes at a camera in a two-minute staring contest.
Still, there are lingering signs that Alba isn’t completely tech fluent. Dale notes that Alba sometimes blogs in all capital letters. “That’s a clear sign that she doesn’t use a computer that much,” says Dale.
Celebrities may find technology a grind, but they still exploit it for their own purposes. Tom Cruise, who proudly lives unencumbered by a cellphone or e-mail address, recently launched an official Web site to showcase career highlights. Susan Sarandon calls herself a Luddite, but eagerly signed on to star in the super-techie film Speed Racer. Actor Casey Affleck, a health-conscious vegan, said his fear that cellphones cause cancer caused him to pitch his handset into the Hudson River. But within a few days, Affleck admits, he headed back to a store for a new one