Recently, Microsoft's PowerPoint has come under a series of
brutal attacks. Critics have accused the software of promoting simplistic
thinking, dumbing down presentations, and constricting interactions
between presenter and audience (Schwartz 2003;
Parker 2001; Thompson
2003). One detractor went so far as to label PowerPoint
“technological cocaine” and another demanded a ban on the
software, urging that “Friends Don't Let Friends Use
PowerPoint” (Keller 2003; Stewart 2001). The most coherent exposition of
PowerPoint's weaknesses has come from Edward Tufte, Yale Professor
and visual presentation guru. Tufte (2003)
argues that PowerPoint is format—rather than content—or
audience-oriented, and thus “turn[s] everything into a
sales pitch.” His list of grievances against the software is long.
PowerPoint replaces serious analysis with chartjunk, logotypes, and corny
clip art. It breaks information into small arbitrary fragments and stacks
it chronologically in a manner that inhibits analysis through comparison.
It “messes up data with systematic intensity” through bad
resolution, thin graphics, and low-information charts. PowerPoint's
“inherent defects,” so says Tufte, are “making us
stupid, degrading the quality and credibility of our communication,
turning us into bores, wasting our colleagues' time.”Ron E. Hassner is assistant
professor of political science at the University of California, Berkeley.
He remains indebted to Scott D. Sagan for introducing him to both
PowerPoint and baseball.