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PowerPoint Makes You Dumb
New York Times ^ | 12/14/2003 | CLIVE THOMPSON

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 ...


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Miscellaneous
KEYWORDS: powerpoint
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1 posted on 12/14/2003 6:54:48 PM PST by Born Conservative
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To: Born Conservative
I thought this article looked familiar. I think I read it a few weeks ago. =)
2 posted on 12/14/2003 6:57:20 PM PST by yevgenie (Byte me. Or is that yBetm .e ? Which end of the egg do you break first?)
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To: Born Conservative
This is my PowerPoint.
There are many like it, but mine is [PowerPoint] 97...
I will learn it as a brother.
I will learn its weaknesses, its fonts, its accessories and its formats...
My PowerPoint and myself are the defenders of my country.
We are the masters of our subject.
We are the saviors of my career...
3 posted on 12/14/2003 7:00:08 PM PST by billorites (freepo ergo sum)
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To: Born Conservative
Blame Bill Gates. Right. I figured NASA used UNIX.
4 posted on 12/14/2003 7:01:13 PM PST by Poser
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To: yevgenie
I didn't see this one earlier ! Maybe you saw an illusion?

An illusion like a piece of foam that can blast a hole in a shuttle wing? hah!

5 posted on 12/14/2003 7:01:27 PM PST by steplock (www.FOCUS.GOHOTSPRINGS.com)
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To: yevgenie
Yeah, I think I've seen something like this before too.

The problem is not with PowerPoint, per se, but with how people use it. Most people just use the pathetic templates.

The most interesting use I have ever seen was given in a lecture by information guru Lawrence Lessig. He gave a speech which appeared on the PowerPoint slides verbatim. But as he read the slide, the words disappeared. Once he had finished the slide, there were only a few words left on the screen, and those were the key words from the paragraph.

So essentially, it was a regular lecture, just enhanced a little bit by the PowerPoint. You heard him speak the entire paragraph, but the words left on the screen were kind of his way of saying, "OK, this is what you should have gotten out of what I said."
6 posted on 12/14/2003 7:02:29 PM PST by July 4th (George W. Bush, Avenger of the Bones)
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To: Born Conservative
Requests are made, from day to day,
Briefings held, and changes made.
Graphics slides, a must they say,
and PowerPoint is the only way.

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.

7 posted on 12/14/2003 7:03:45 PM PST by billorites (freepo ergo sum)
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To: July 4th
very cool way to utilize power point.
8 posted on 12/14/2003 7:05:26 PM PST by Conservative4Ever (Dear Santa......I can explain.......)
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To: billorites
There is nothing more didactic, more downright boring, than a PP presentation.
9 posted on 12/14/2003 7:05:28 PM PST by pickemuphere
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To: Born Conservative
Can somebody please put this article in bullet form so that I can better understand it?

Thank you.

10 posted on 12/14/2003 7:07:51 PM PST by SamAdams76 (Merry Christmas!)
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To: pickemuphere
"There is nothing more didactic, more downright boring, than a PP presentation."

My students have been telling me that for years.

I discount their complaints, of course.

11 posted on 12/14/2003 7:09:07 PM PST by billorites (freepo ergo sum)
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To: July 4th
I prefer FrontPage. That way you can make enormously long single "slides" that scroll!

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!

12 posted on 12/14/2003 7:12:01 PM PST by muawiyah
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To: pickemuphere
That is true. Power point is fun for about the first day, when you first learn how to use it, then after that it is BORING!
13 posted on 12/14/2003 7:16:15 PM PST by buffyt (Can you say President Hillary? Me Neither!!!! Treasonous witch traveled to Iraq on Broomstick One)
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To: Born Conservative
PowerPoint had nothing to do with it.

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."

14 posted on 12/14/2003 7:16:47 PM PST by E. Pluribus Unum (Drug prohibition laws help fund terrorism.)
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To: Born Conservative
Of course, with the exception of FrontPage, I don't see a lot of competition being recommended. I would bet that if someone came out with a Windows compatible presentation tool that really helped the user create better presentations, it would be a top seller.

I suspect Powerpoint to maintain its perch for some time, even with all its flaws.

15 posted on 12/14/2003 7:25:47 PM PST by ClearCase_guy (France delenda est)
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To: Born Conservative; martin_fierro
PowerPoint: Pros and Pitfalls

Pros
• World's most popular tool

Pitfalls
• Confusing
• 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

16 posted on 12/14/2003 7:28:02 PM PST by Charles Henrickson (• We like it, survey shows)
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To: Born Conservative
The Gettysburg Powerpoint Presentation
17 posted on 12/14/2003 7:35:04 PM PST by wideminded
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To: SamAdams76
Can somebody please put this article in bullet form so that I can better understand it?

See:
• Post 16

Thank you.

You're:
• Welcome

18 posted on 12/14/2003 7:36:27 PM PST by Charles Henrickson (• Tagline)
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To: Charles Henrickson
Ah, that's much clearer! Thanks!
19 posted on 12/14/2003 7:38:25 PM PST by RansomOttawa (tm)
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To: Charles Henrickson; Born Conservative
Powerpoint makes you dumb

Oh hell, yes.

20 posted on 12/14/2003 7:41:36 PM PST by martin_fierro (Ohhh...ehhh... ¿Peeka Panish?)
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