Monday, October 14, 2013


It's Not The Tools

The Constructive Curmudgeon reviews a book that lambasts PowerPoint:
Frommer understands the power of PowerPoint—and that its power is not always in service of the good, the true, or the beautiful. Under the cloak of ubiquity PowerPoint often robs us of knowledge by encouraging poor cognitive habits, given its very nature. As Marshall McLuhan said (and most people forgot), “the medium is the message.” This overstatement emphasizes the rhetorical nature of all communication. Every message is shaped by its medium. As Frommer says, “a medium is never neutral” (xv). A text message has a different form, and therefore a different effect, than a face-to-face conversation. A written card differs from an email message, even if the propositional content is identical. Rhetoric, the art of persuasion, not only applies to spoken and written language, but to the objects and systems of communications themselves. It is no wonder that the greatest technological analyst of the last century (quirky, though he was), Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980), was, by training, a rhetorician and not a technology expert or sociologist. McLuhan did not live long enough to sniff out the significance of PowerPoint, but Frommer continues his great tradition of principled suspicion. (The book mentions McLuhan only once in passing, on page 226, but his spirit is everywhere.) Frommer writes that PowerPoint “has invented a comprehensive rhetorical apparatus in which all the classical techniques of argument have been cleverly absorbed or transformed” (xii).
I do not doubt the effects noted, but I don't think PowerPoint is the issue. The issues is twofold. One the inappropriate use of PowerPoint - there are times when things are not bullet points. Two, the fact that people nowadays want information graphically, not textually. We now make videos to transmit information far more efficiently and thoroughly communicated in writing, or even by lecture.

PowerPoint is a tool and like a hammer it can be used to build things or it can be used to tear things down. Which it is used for is up to the wielder of the tool. If it is used destructively, blame the person using it, not the tool.

Better, teach them how to use the tool.


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