Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Shooting the tool

Back in July, I received an invitation to an industry event. Regretfully, I had to decline it. But I noticed something interesting in the e-mail version of the invitation.


And yes, that was all caps and in bold in the original e-mail. In fact, it was the only all-caps/emboldened item in the entire first paragraph, so you know that the company considered this the most important thing about their event.

There are many PowerPoint haters in the world, including semi-retro people such as this Yale University organic chemistry professor:

"In my class, there's no PowerPoint, there are no movies, no blowing up things to create excitement. There's six blackboards, a lot of chalk, and a lot of actively asking the students questions," Miller says, joking that the multi-colored chalk is as fancy as he gets. "I try very hard to create an environment where there's active learning, where it's a discussion."

Other educators object to PowerPoint, but for different reasons:

Scientists from the New South Wales University in Australia have studied, again, the effects Microsoft PowerPoint has on viewers of presentations made with the help of this software.

The Australian scientists think that according to the "cognitive load theory" the human brain cannot receive and 'decode' visual and audio information at the same time for longer than a few seconds. Thus information consisting of diagrams and graphs accompanied by speech would be perceived easily; nevertheless printed text accompanied by speech would not let the audience understand the presentation as it was meant to be understood.

The article then goes on to cite similar research from...Yale University.

But others prefer no PowerPoint for no PowerPoint's sake:

At DEMO's first manifestation in Europe in Munich this week, rules like no ties and no powerpoint rule made the pitchfest a little more dynamic than we're used to here.

It's interesting to note that every one of these items specifically named the Microsoft application PowerPoint, rather than referring to presentation software in general. In a sense, this could actually be pleasing to Microsoft (except for the trademark lawyers), since it reinforces the idea that presentation software IS PowerPoint.

But Eric Rauchway addressed a question to self-described PowerPoint haters:

Is the problem

a) PowerPoint™ itself, as an implementation of concept?
b) presentation software creeping into areas of discourse where it doesn't belong (like, e.g., war planning)?
c) or the concept itself--presentation software of any kind?

If the answer is c, Rauchway has an additional question:

And if it's this last, is the idea that presentation software is like a handgun--has its place, but should be kept out of the hands of children and the intemperate? Or is it inherently bad?

In some of the cases I cited above, such as the industry event and DEMO, it seems like the organizers feel that PowerPoint is inherently evil, and that even someone who knows how to present material should be banned from using PowerPoint.

We are often inclined to shoot tools and designate them as evil. PowerPoint is bad. Cell phones are bad. American cars are bad. And the idea extends beyond technology - many of the cited ridiculous laws (see http://www.dumblaws.com/) arise from the same level of thinking. (Which reminds me - how many U.S. city councils have banned PowerPoint?)

It may be that Microsoft will end up financing underground cells that will carry on the brave fight of PowerPoint freedom.

Or perhaps the underground cells will be used to promote Excel use instead.
blog comments powered by Disqus