PowerPoint Remix

Aaron Swartz has a pointer to Edward R. Tufte‘s “The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint” Presented in the Form of a PowerPoint Presentation. I personally use PP but I miss the old overheads with transparencies. In fact, the last presentation I did I really dug around for one and did use the transparencies. I like writing on them, being able to overlay multiple ones, etc. In this, I think the analog world still is the better one.

The original post has what appears to be the full presentation the PP speak. Here is but a snippet, follow the link for more.


  • PowerPoint is standard-
  • -but bad.
  • Why?

From [Aaron Swartz]

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Dave Slusher is a blogger, podcaster, computer programmer, author, science fiction fan and father.

One thought on “PowerPoint Remix”

  1. I’ve found myself wondering what it is exactly that makes PPT evil. Certainly it is dangerous: a graphic communications tool in the hands of people poorly trained in graphical communication is a bad thing. As Tufte points out, hierarchical outlines can be used to lend a spurious authority to banal or misleading statements and imply non-existent chains of inference and conclusion. But this, I think, is not enough to make PPT truly evil. For a long time I wondered what I was missing, until I came across this:

    Leverage your existing presentations so you don’t have to start from scratch. You can import just about any file type into Keynote – including PowerPoint, PDF and AppleWorks presentations – and then enhance with themes. You can paste data from Excel documents into your Keynote charts and tables. Keynote lets you export presentations to PowerPoint, QuickTime or PDF.

    Here http://www.apple.com/keynote/ … and I realised that Chomsky had answered the question over a generation ago.

    PPT, surely, has as its antecedents the blackboard, the flip chart and the ohp. Even used amateurishly, all of these media are effectively deployed in communication. Thinking back to my schooldays, I was always worried about teachers who flourished OHPs rather than wrote on the board, for some obscure reason, but they never struck the terror into me that a session of PPTs can. Why is this? And why did ohps make me more nervous than blackboards?

    In the 1970s Chomsky noted that television was destroying political discourse. He realised that, in fact, discourse was stopping, as television demanded immediacy, and is not well suited to the delivery of lectures, encouraging a style of discourse now known as the “soundbite”. At first, “soundbites” were the distillation of more complex arguments – and this was the point of Chomsky’s objection: that complex political debate was being “dumbed down” into a soundbite for television’s consumption.

    This was the effect of television itself–as McLuhan spotted, the medium is the message–but the political classes soon got with the medium and rather than “dumb down” the argument to get to the soundbite, dropped the argument entirely to produce just the soundbite. By the 1980s, politics had become merely soundbite packaging: Consider, since when did “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime” actually substitute for a policy on criminal justice?

    Although politics has always been about sloganeering–wrapping a complex idea into a memorable phrase like “votes for women”, “peace in our time”, “liberty, equality, fraternity”–there used to be complex political ideas behind the slogans. Nowadays, political parties don’t have policies as such, they instead craft soundbites to appeal to target swing voter groups. The party that does this best gets elected.

    There are no longer any big ideas in politics not because all the big idea battles have been won, but because there are not anymore big ideas at all – and PPT has helped this happen to the presentation of complex information.

    In the past, the notes on the blackboard represented a summation. The teacher wasn’t writing all there was to know on the subject – that existed in books, papers, pictures, documents, films, and other archives. The teacher merely presented a synthetic overview of the corpus relevant to the lesson at hand.

    The teacher was able to do this (if they were a good teacher) because they had some mastery of that corpus. The notes on the board were ephemeral, epiphenomena of the narrative the teacher’s master caused him/her to weave around the source material. On reflection, this is why I got nervous about OHPs.

    OHPs were more difficult to produce, and were produced in advance of the lesson. The teacher became preoccupied with the presentation of the OHPs, making sure they were laid out clearly and legible from the back of the class, as they would be unable to effect significant changes on the fly. They would have to prejudge very accurately the length of their talk, and the level of engagement of their audience. They would, in short, have come to see the production of the OHPs as the end in itself, rather than the summative mastery of the subject matter.

    PPTs, too, has become an end in itself. PPTs don’t summarise more complex corpora, they are the sole embodiment of a piece of thinking, information or ideas. The are lavishly prepared: my anecdotal impression is that for every hour a PPT is worked on, 40 minutes are on looknfeel, and 20 minutes are on content.

    As more and more visual tools are loaded into presentation software, as with Keynote, more and more time is spent on the looknfeel. This is what makes PPT evil: it is the primary medium for the expression of ideas in business, and, increasingly, education.

    PPT is no longer an ephemeral medium, but a medium of record – so what we record is executive summaries and bullet-points. Not only are complex ideas no longer explored –if they won’t fit on a slide, there’s no place for them–but people are becoming increasingly ignorant of complex ideas: All thought has become slogans.

    Is there hope? Very little, I fear. But I say this – delete your PPT slides after presenting them. Promise yourself that you will always treat them as ephemeral, that your primary sources will be elsewhere, in greater depth, and with more detail, and you may yet be saved.

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