Does PowerPoint affect how we think? [Trippy] | Posted at 10:36 PM
It's an interesting question and we'll be discussing this tomorrow in class.
I wanted to point you in the direction of two great articles on the topic:
Basically, this is an article talking about how the teams at NASA presented their reports to executives using PowerPoint and what their format said about how they thought.
An article in The New Yorker, it basically goes into more detail about the idea of PowerPoint "editing thoughts."
It's an interesting discussion, to say the least. I mean, in my class on Digital Literacies we talk a lot about the affordances of technology, i.e. what is inherent in them and what is developed by society.
In PowerPoint, as is alluded to in the NASA report article, you have a limited amount of space, how can you communicate a complex idea on one slide? Indeed, the very thought that you have to convey a single idea on every slide is an inherent quality of our thinking, isn't it? I tend to convey ideas across however many slides I need but we are still conditioned to convey the least amount of text possible since we know (or think we know) that no one reads long paragraphs of text on slides.
As you might have seen in Edward Tufte's article, the word "significant" appeared many times on one single slide but its meaning changed every time. Instead of being able to write about phrases that normal executives could understand, PowerPoint's affordances tend to produce sentences that are very short and staccato'd.
What I also thought was interesting was the way we order bullet points, normally from most important to least important, or bigger idea to smaller detail. Tuft mentions how the ideas that mentioned the shuttle not being able to safely land were smaller, end bullet points, as if it was a bad idea to talk about them.
This set of articles is under the theme of this week's class: "visual literacy." It's interesting to consider PowerPoint visual literacy considering the meat of a PP is its textual content. However, this goes back to the hierarchical ordering of data, that we organize our thoughts and ideas in a presentation in a visual way. Big to small text, bullets, charts, images, logos, etc.
From a personal standpoint, even I can see how right these articles are. When I will be working on my Windows Live presentations this or next week, I won't be able to fit all the things I want to say on the slides. I am going to have to abbreviate them, to make sure I stay under my 10-15 minute pitch. At the same time, when I give a PowerPoint presentation, I don't rely solely on what's written on the slides, it's as much about speaking as it is about the slides. I like to think of them as complementary to my talking… but sometimes it gets the best of you, if you are pressed for time you skip through slides (and what you were going to say).
I think that it is a valid point of contention to say that, "Well, PowerPoints aren't all about their text, it matters what you are saying as well." I think that's true, I think that maybe what we see on that NASA report isn't necessarily everything that was discussed but also remember that most of the time you are pressed to finish the presentation… if you had done a speech/non-visual presentation, you probably would have written out an essay and than refined it until you managed to say everything you had to say within your allotted time period.
Still, a presentation or speech is no substitute for a properly written document… if you are presenting on a complex topic, you better have a formal document to go with it.