Skip to comments.PowerPoint Makes You Dumb
Posted on 12/14/2003 6:54:47 PM PST by Born Conservative
PowerPoint Makes You Dumb By CLIVE THOMPSON
Published: December 14, 2003
In August, the Columbia Accident Investigation Board at NASA released Volume 1 of its report on why the space shuttle crashed. As expected, the ship's foam insulation was the main cause of the disaster. But the board also fingered another unusual culprit: PowerPoint, Microsoft's well-known ''slideware'' program.
NASA, the board argued, had become too reliant on presenting complex information via PowerPoint, instead of by means of traditional ink-and-paper technical reports. When NASA engineers assessed possible wing damage during the mission, they presented the findings in a confusing PowerPoint slide -- so crammed with nested bullet points and irregular short forms that it was nearly impossible to untangle. ''It is easy to understand how a senior manager might read this PowerPoint slide and not realize that it addresses a life-threatening situation,'' the board sternly noted.
PowerPoint is the world's most popular tool for presenting information. There are 400 million copies in circulation, and almost no corporate decision takes place without it. But what if PowerPoint is actually making us stupider?
This year, Edward Tufte -- the famous theorist of information presentation -- made precisely that argument in a blistering screed called The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint. In his slim 28-page pamphlet, Tufte claimed that Microsoft's ubiquitous software forces people to mutilate data beyond comprehension. For example, the low resolution of a PowerPoint slide means that it usually contains only about 40 words, or barely eight seconds of reading. PowerPoint also encourages users to rely on bulleted lists, a ''faux analytical'' technique, Tufte wrote, that dodges the speaker's responsibility to tie his information together. And perhaps worst of all is how PowerPoint renders charts. Charts in newspapers like The Wall Street Journal contain up to 120 elements on average, allowing readers to compare large groupings of data. But, as Tufte found, PowerPoint users typically produce charts with only 12 elements. Ultimately, Tufte concluded, PowerPoint is infused with ''an attitude of commercialism that turns everything into a sales pitch.''
Microsoft officials, of course, beg to differ. Simon Marks, the product manager for PowerPoint, counters that Tufte...
(Excerpt) Read more at nytimes.com ...
Computers crash, and printers stall, Overloading protocol.
Network's down and soldiers cry,
Briefing's late so heads will fly.
Pin PowerPoint Slides upon my chest,
Full-color slides, they look the best.
One Hundred Slides were made that day,
But only 3 were ever displayed.
A smile came on the General's face,
Slides were done and looked just great!
T'was up all night, worked really late,
Just to hear, the General state:
My soldier son, your slides were great,
Briefing's done, slides up to date.
One problem son, the color's wrong,
One more chance, or you go home.
So tell my mom, I've done my best.
Pin PowerPoint Slides on my chest.
One hundred slides were made that day,
But only 3 were ever displayed.
My students have been telling me that for years.
I discount their complaints, of course.
Recently I quoted one of our executives who'd decided to try to bully me around. Put up his words on the slide, then, lo and behold, right after reading through them, I clicked my mouse over the area and they flew off the page in a stream of noise.
They were rolling on the floor with that one! I just went on with the presentation pretending I didn't notice!
This is somewhat more difficult to do with *.ppt, and takes longer too!
The self-serving bureaucratic NASA turf-protectors chose to ignore the damage in the hopes that the shuttle would be saved by a miracle.
None of them wanted to get the blame for throwing their precious schedule off.
Nothing has changed since the Endeavor.
NASA's culture is still exactly the same.
"The highlight of the Rogers Commission hearings was the testimony of Nobel-Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman, who, frustrated by witnesses' vague answers and slow bureaucratic procedures, conducted an impromptu experiment that proved key to the investigation. He dunked a piece of the rocket booster's O-ring material into a cup of ice water, memorably demonstrating how it lost all resiliency at low temperatures and removing all doubt as to the technical cause of the explosion. In the commission's final report, Feynman accused NASA of "playing Russian roulette" with astronauts' lives."
I suspect Powerpoint to maintain its perch for some time, even with all its flaws.
World's most popular tool
Crammed with nested bullet points
Nearly impossible to untangle
Making us stupider?
Data mutilated beyond comprehension
Bulleted lists a "faux analytical" technique
Turns everything into a sales pitch
Oh hell, yes.
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