PowerPoint and the Military

A few weeks ago I blogged about several people who see PowerPoint as a barrier to understanding. Today, my eye was drawn to a New York Times headline proclaiming: “We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint.”

In remarks that appear to be channeling Edward Tufte, General McChrystal has called PowerPoint “dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control. Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable.”

Others in the military agree.  According to the article, this month at a military conference in North Carolina, Gen. James N. Mattis of the Marine Corps, the Joint Forces commander, said  “PowerPoint makes us stupid.” (He spoke without PowerPoint.) At the same conference, Brig. Gen. H. R. McMaster, who banned PowerPoint presentations when he led the successful effort to secure the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar in 2005, likened PowerPoint to an internal threat.

Again, consistent with Tufte’s arguments, the article reports: “Commanders say that the slides impart less information than a five-page paper can hold, and that they relieve the briefer of the need to polish writing to convey an analytic, persuasive point. Imagine lawyers presenting arguments before the Supreme Court in slides instead of legal briefs.”

Having just spent two days at an academic conference where every session — including the one I gave — featured a PowerPoint presentation, I wonder if anyone has considered its effects on the creation and dissemination of scientific knowledge…

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