Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Article: PowerPoint is Evil

I love technology. But I hate technology that hurts people, like assault weapons, genetically engineered viruses, and Microsoft PowerPoint. Edward Tufte at Wired agrees with me, as does Ruth Marcus at the Washington Post.

Like all forms of torture, though, PowerPoint degrades its practitioners as well as its victims. Yes, boring slides were plentiful in the pre-PowerPoint era -- remember the overhead projector? Yes, it can help the intellectually inept organize their thoughts. But the seductive availability of PowerPoint and the built-in drive to reduce all subjects to a series of short-handed bullet points eliminates nuances and enables, even encourages, the absence of serious thinking. Really, why think at all when the auto-content wizard can do it for you?

Click on the full post for my insane ramblings and some humorous PowerPoint slides...

A big part of my job is formulating policy based on complex information. But no matter how important or complex any particular information is, once it gets above my level to the decision makers, it is reduced into a PowerPoint presentation.

I have literally walked up to one of the higher ups and had this conversation:

DC: "I've researched Program X for the past month, consulted all of the program managers, and conducted site visits. I've concluded that although the numbers for Program X look good on the surface, its not actually accomplishing any of its goals. In reality, we're wasting hundreds of millions of dollars on PR and administration. I've written this ten page report, which summarize my findings."

Powerful Jerk: "Wow. That sounds important. Can you summarize it into a PowerPoint presentation for me so that I can share it with A More Powerful Jerk?"

DC: "I did summarize my findings - in this ten page report. If I simplify it any further, the program looks fine, because the measures we use to gauge program success are inadequate."

Powerful Jerk: "The More Powerful Jerk doesn't have the time to read a report in our Senior Important Jerk Meeting. Can't you just say that the measures are inadequate in a PowerPoint slide?"

DC: "Yeees, I could. But its impossible to present any real evidence because the arguments can't be boiled down into bullet points and retain any significant level of meaning. Besides, reading the report would actually take less time then it would to listen to a PowerPoint presentation."

Powerful Jerk: "Look, this is how Powerful Jerks makes decisions. If you're not smart enough to concisely present your findings, then you'll never be a Powerful Jerk, and your research is probably wrong."

DC: "What? I'm great at making PowerPoint presentations? I've been doing them for ten years! I could do one for this report in two hours! It's just that..."

Powerful Jerk: "Great. Email it to me by close of business tomorrow."

Then the meeting occurs, and rather then talking about the meaning and importance of anything substantive, people argue over presentation (can we make this swoosh onto the screen?), bullet points, and graphics - which are almost always skewed and manipulated.

To prove my point, here are some of the most important concepts in human learning, reduced into PowerPoint slides:

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