PowerPoint Kills Brain Cells

by James R. Stoup Sep 07, 2005

Ultimately a computer is just a tool. Applications are tools as well. Printers, scanners, fax machines, all tools. They help us do something. Now, that something might be office work, it might be playing games or communicating with others but the fact remains that their purpose is to help us accomplish something. However computers can become a crutch. They can do our thinking for us if we let them, much to our detriment. How so, you ask? Why, just go into any middle school in America and ask a 7th grader to add something for you. What is the first thing that they do? Why, reach for a calculator of course. And a graphing calculator at that. I have witnessed this first hand many times and yet it never ceases to scare me.

I graduated high school in 2000 having taken every math course my school offered. I then went on to college, majored in Computer Engineering, minored in Applied Physics and took a math class every semester for three years. During my entire high school and collegiate career the only device I ever owned was a $12 scientific calculator I got in the 9th grade. So please believe me when I say it is quite possible to live without a graphing calculator or math processing software. Clearly then 7th graders should be able to work simple arithmetic out in their head. A TI89 graphing calculator is overkill to say the least. Hell, NASA sent a man to the moon with the slide rule!

And speaking of NASA we now arrive at the point of this article. Check out NASA & PowerPoint. This rather interesting story explains how very important information slipped by senior NASA managers because it was “so buried and condensed in the rigid PowerPoint format as to be useless.” The managers were looking at the information without actually thinking about it. They were lulled into a sense of security by the slick presentation in front of them and as a result failed to analyze and question the data properly. Just like the 7th graders reaching for their TI89s NASA engineers are using PowerPoint as a crutch. And, as we saw with the all too recent Columbia incident, failing to scrutinize important information can cause severe problems down the road.

And the problem doesn’t limit itself to NASA, oh no, not by a long shot. If you work in corporate America then you have already been inundated with a hail of powerpoint presentations. You have sat through meeting after meeting trying to stay awake as some presenter desperately attempts to impress upon you the meaning of his dozens of slides. And ultimately what do you walk away with? Very little knowledge usually. All the life has been drained out of your body due to a mind numbing 2 hour conference in which the bane of your existence became the words “and on this next slide you will see. . .”

But wait, it doesn’t stop there. Powerpoint has crept into the very heart of academia as well. Grade school students know all to well that it doesn’t matter what you say but how you say it that earns you the grade. A sad, if true, reality. And anyone who has attended a university of higher learning recently is also well acquainted with powerpoint. Nothing, and I mean nothing is worse than a professor who, for 75 minutes, gives a lecture one bullet point at a time. Teaching this way allows one to sit back, relax and let the powerpoint goodness wash over him leaving behind virtually no useful information and thus defeating the point of a lecture.

Now, don’t get me wrong powerpoint (or keynote for that matter) has its place. Used correctly they can be very helpful tools. It is when they become requirements, not additions, to presentations that I am disturbed. We are raising up a society that is doing its best not to think and that can only mean trouble in the long run.


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