Friday, July 28, 2006

On the Evils of PowerPoint

Scarcely less than a week and SONA fever has come and gone. The fever has shifted to, well, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's fever. (Following GMA's theological bent, can we now say, "It's God's Will?")

Village idiot that I am, I am slow on the uptake so I am only now writing tangential entries on the said SONA. No in-depth analysis here, folks; you can look elsewhere for a more profound deconstruction. Instead, I am here to zero in on the SONA's use of PowerPoint.

Much has been said about this year's SONA being the most high-tech and the most interactive, all thanks to the use of an old albeit ubiquitous piece of office software called PowerPoint. And just like the devil, who is also old and ubiquitous, PowerPoint is also evil.

And that, my friends, is what I am here to remind you of, so I say it again: Powerpoint is Evil.

The discovery is not mine, so I'll borrow heavily from its principal author, Edward Tufte, professor emeritus at Yale University, who first propounded it in an article for Wired in 2003. Tufte likened Powerpoint to a drug that "induced stupidity, turned everyone into bores, wasted time, and degraded the quality and credibility of communication."

Tufte's principal accusation against PowerPoint is its encouragement of a pushy style that seeks to set up a speaker's dominance over the audience. Last Monday's SONA should be proof enough of that. Furthermore, Tufte says: "The speaker, after all, is making power points with bullets to followers. Could any metaphor be worse? Voicemail menu systems? Billboards? Television? Stalin?"

Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo styles herself as the country's CEO (and I'll have more to say on that on another post) so it might be apropos to look at PowerPoint in a business setting: information tends to come across as a jumbled mass that does not lend itself to analytical processing. Chartjunk, Tufte calls this, and this lends itself to statistical stupidity.

Several other experts have corroborated Tufte's findings. In follow-up Wired article, Edward Miller, an education researcher says:
One of the criticisms that's been raised about PowerPoint is that it can give the illusion of coherence and content when there really isn't very much coherence or content. ....PowerPoint serves largely the same role in the classroom as pre-processed snack food does in the lunchroom: a conveniently packaged morsel that looks good but doesn't match the intellectual or corporeal nourishment of, say, a critical essay or a plate of steamed spinach.

Miller, of course, was referring to the use of PowerPoint in education. There's no reason that his thoughts can't be applied to, say, the boardroom. Or a State of the Nation address.

To conclude, we go back to Tufte's observation, which is so compelling that I have to quote him once again verbatim:
At a minimum, a presentation format should do no harm. Yet the PowerPoint style routinely disrupts, dominates, and trivializes content. Thus PowerPoint presentations too often resemble a school play -- very loud, very slow, and very simple.

Sounds familiar? Sonofabish!

7 comments:

  1. It would have been cooler if she had used OpenOffice.org Impress. But then again, GMA is not that tech-savvy :p

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  2. I agree. Coupled to LCD projectors, PPT is a way making small, nasty ideas look big and bright, a natural extension of PGMA's own personal style all her life. All looks and puerile cuteness without substance or depth.

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  3. Dean: there you go, you nailed it right on the head, as always.

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  4. The I suppose I'd fully dropping PowerPoint and switching to OpenOffice's Impress. ;)

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  5. Thanks for visiting, Jhay. The thrust of Tufte's argument is less on the actual product than the thinking process that goes into the creation of the presentation. The best example of this are speakers who read directly from the slides.

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  6. Dom, here's more material in support of your thesis. This time in the context of the US military involvement in Iraq:

    http://crookedtimber.org/2006/08/11/powerpoint-corrupts-the-point-absolutely/#more-5020

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