This was written well over a year ago and offered to a site. I assume it’s not coming out there, so I thought I’d put it up here before I lose it.
“Imagine a widely used and expensive prescription drug that promised to make us beautiful but didn’t. Instead the drug had frequent, serious side effects: It induced stupidity, turned everyone into bores, wasted time, and degraded the quality and credibility of communication. These side effects would rightly lead to a worldwide product recall.”
“Which came first on the evolutionary ladder, stupidity or PowerPoint? For all the demonizing, PowerPoint is just a tool.”
“I’d rather gouge my eyeballs out with a spoon than sit through another boring PowerPoint presentation.”
There has been a quiet revolution in archæology and ancient history in the past couple of years. Both OHP transparencies and slides are being driven to extinction by PowerPoint, the leading “slideware” package. If the hype is to be believed we are entering an era when all presentations should glisten and glide before our eyes with the greatest of ease. The digitisation of presentation would seem to mark the victory of the technophiles over the Luddites. So why is there is an increasing number of articles by technology pundits with names like “Friends don’t let friends use PowerPoint” (Stewart 2001), “PowerPoint makes you dumb” (Thompson 2003), and “Is PowerPoint the devil?” (Keller 2003)? Are these warnings of fundamental flaws in PowerPoint, or another round of Micro$oft bashing by posturing cybernauts? The answer is probably a bit of both.
Segments of this article first appeared in various forms in arch-pgs, the Leicester mailing list after attending a few conferences and sitting through PowerPoint presentations of varying quality. There are some emerging conventions in PowerPoint presentations, but they seem disjointed and ill-thought through. In particular I was amazed at one presentation which was designed in blue. Blue, the author told me, is the best colour for PowerPoint. Her graphs were blue too. Neolithic pottery was in dark blue, Bronze Age pottery in light blue, Iron Age pottery in hashed blue, Greek pottery in polka-dotted blue… This was followed at the same conference by three other speakers who all also thought blue was the best colour for a presentation. The result of which was I couldn’t distinguish in my memory between one talk and another.
It would seem that either through misuse or poor design, PowerPoint often works to obscure the message that the presenter gives rather than aid it. It is time that we look critically at the use of PowerPoint, and look at the alternatives. Do we even need PowerPoint?