Today at Microsoft’s Imagine Cup finals in St. Petersburg, the current Doctor Who, Matt Smith held a short court with the gathered press to answer a few questions about his role as the master of ceremonies for the coming conclusion of the competition.
This year marks the first time in which Microsoft has brought a famous name to host the end of Imagine Cup, which is somewhat fitting as this year the company broadened the scope of the competition, attracting 70% more participants than in the previous year.
“This event was off the charts”
Gary Vaynerchuk was so impressed with TNW Conference 2016 he paused mid-talk to applaud us.
I was lucky enough to catch up with Smith after the public question session. I’ll quickly recap his remarks made to the media as a group, and then race you through the more serious questions such as ‘why don’t you tweet,’ and ‘is that a Lumia in your pocket?’
Asked if he had been afforded the chance of a stroll through the main floor where kids are showing off their projects to judges and media alike, Smith stated that he had, and that a project from Uganda to identify Malaria infection using a smartphone had caught his eye.
He went on to note that he was “stunned” by the level of talent on display. He “expected volcanoes that [would] blow up,” but instead found himself saying to the kids that they were akin more to Bill Gates than anything else.
Pressed on his personal technological chops, Smith freely admitted that he wasn’t a guru. He can, however, send email and use a plug. This led to what he would enjoy seeing the kids create next: a room next to your shower akin to a Dyson Airblade that would blast you dry after getting wet. This would prevent the Cold After Shower effect that has ruined innumerable mornings.
A Polish journalist asked what advice he might offer the kids on how to see their projects through to success. Smith noted that in the art or business worlds, “so much of [success] is that people who work harder, or sacrifice more, do better.”
A final kick before we dive into a more detailed set of questions: Does Matt Smith prefer print or digital news? Cut down the trees.
Just The Two Of Us
The following call and response has been lightly edited and condensed. It has been formatted to fit your screen. I cut out parts of my dialogue for crispness when possible. Let’s go:
Alex: How did you end up here at Imagine Cup?
Matt Smith: [Microsoft] reached out to my agent, Brittany, and I got a call, [raising] the idea: would you be interested in being involved with a project like this, and I said, well, you know, ordinarily no, not really.
But they told me a little about the project and then, for me, it made a bit more sense, because it was about young people and innovation and inventing things, and I’m sort of intrigued by that. It’s something that needs to be encouraged.
This next generation of people are going to shape the way that we live, technologically. And I think that some of these guys out there could be big hitters. You never know, and this gives them a platform to really explore that. It sounded like a cool thing to be a part of. The message of Imagine Cup, which is innovation and inventing things and moving technology forward, [is] a good one.
Alex: There are overtones between this event and your show, with people trying out things that may or may not work. It’s a diverse mix of stuff.
Matt Smith: It challenges science in a way. I think it allows kids to engage in science or in medicine or in technology on their own terms.
Alex: If it’s not personal, you won’t work on it.
Matt Smith: Exactly. You know, the passion and commitment of the participants really shines through when you meet them. And what some of them are doing is pretty impressive for twenty of years of age. I wasn’t doing that at twenty.
Alex: Do you do this sort of MC work often?
Matt Smith: Never, I’ve never done one before. This is the only one I’ve ever done. I don’t think that I’ll do a lot of them either. This one has a particularly science-y spin for me, a geek spin, which I’m into.
Alex: Well, if you weren’t a geek, I don’t think that you would like your own show.
Matt Smith: No, exactly.
Alex: You have a smartphone, is that a Lumia 920?
Matt Smith: Yes, it’s a Lumia. No, no it’s not an iPhone, it is indeed a Lumia, and its great.
Alex: Just some nerd questions, while I have you.
Matt Smith: Hit me.
Alex: PC or Mac?
Matt Smith: Am I allowed to answer that? Mac. Sorry! Just because it’s light, and I like the Airbook (sic), but PC too! PC has a great spec. I use both, in truth. But I like [Mac] ergonomics.
Alex: Do you use an iPad?
Matt Smith: I use both.
Alex: Really? What Windows tablet do you use?
Matt Smith: The sort of big, flat square one? [It’s the Surface RT] It’s got sort of all your icons and Internet stuff here and around the side and it’s cool. I use both. I use one for reading and one for browsing. That sounds really decadent, doesn’t it, but they were both gifts.
Alex: Which one is reading which one is for browsing?
Matt Smith: I read on my Pad (sic), actually, in iBooks. And I browse on the [other] tablet.
Alex: So you just kinda, by accident, endorsed Internet Explorer. I won’t do it, but that would be a hilarious headline. You made a joke earlier that you weren’t doing this when you were 20. What were you doing at 20?
Matt Smith: I was at university or about to go. And I was reading books, writing poems, and acting at the youth theater, and in my field I was doing my thing. If I wanted to develop a great new piece of technology, one would have hoped that I would be doing something akin to the Imagine Cup. Actually I was more interested in the arts and doing creative stuff.
Alex: Let’s talk about your like of print media. Do you think that among people in our age demographic, it is falling away quickly?
Matt Smith: I think that it is falling away really quickly. People do everything on their tablet now, or on their smartphone. They get the news, because it is immediate; Twitter is such an immediate source of news. I’m not on Twitter or Facebook or any of those things. For me, I grew up reading the papers with my dad in the morning. And we’d have breakfast together. He’d read one paper and I’d read the other and then we’d swap.
I prefer the ceremony of it.
And if I go out for the day, I can buy a paper, and throw it away. If I bring my tablet out, it’s there, all day, and I might lose it. Papers are just more convenient for me. I just prefer it.
Alex: Do you find that you read more broadly, when you have a physical newspaper?
Matt Smith: Yeah, definitely, and it’s really interesting isn’t it? Actually, being abroad sometimes, I was in Detroit making a film, and I found myself going onto a newspaper website every day. But I read more news when I read an actual paper, because I read the whole paper.
Alex: On the subject of Twitter, how or why do you stay off the platform and why?
Matt Smith: Because I spend enough time looking down at my phone, and I believe that with the advent of technology we communicate less as people sometimes. I think it’s important to keep your head up, and look out at the world. I don’t know really, possibly because of my job, Twitter and Facebook aren’t the right environment for me at the moment.
And it’s just not my thing. I don’t really like it, I just don’t see the point. Who cares what I am doing? Who cares!
Alex: Well the odd thing is that a lot of people do. I don’t. I don’t give a shit what you do. I don’t want to follow you, I don’t care. But I think that a lot of people who love the show, would like to follow you. I think that you are willfully depriving some people that would love to stalk you a little more from that ability. But then again, do you really want to feed that?
Matt Smith: Well, I think what’s good about it is that you can promote things, you can engage with your fans. But if you work hard enough you do engage. I go to ComicCon, I do these things, and you do enough events you engage with people, actual people.
Twitter’s just not really my thing, man. It just doesn’t interest me. I don’t care what anyone else is doing. I don’t care what Lady Gaga is up to. It makes no difference to me.
Alex: Perhaps you are preserving your brand a bit from the vapidity of social media by not tweeting your movements?
Matt Smith: That’s not a reason for me not going on Twitter. It’s not because I want to preserve a brand, or my brand or whatever that is. It’s just, because, Twitter is not my thing man.
Alex: Last question: You are leaving Doctor Who, bittersweet?
Matt Smith: It’s a really hard show to leave, because it’s a wonderful show, and I’ve loved making it and working with Steven Moffat. But when you gotta go, you gotta go.
Smith wasn’t kidding. His Twitter account has two tweets. Total. Last update: April 2011.
Top Image Credit: Gage Skidmore