Andrew Smith wrote an amazing column in The Guardian on how PowerPoint makes us dumb and irresponsible. He mainly talks about teaching using PowerPoint. But the same can be said about presentations on congresses and events.
When Andrew Smith heard on the radio about the bad quality of teaching in schools, he thoroughly agreed. His two children, who are both students, had told him as much time and time again. Sometimes they mentioned a rare teacher who was actually good. The first question that Smith asked was: does that teacher use PowerPoint? In most cases, the answer was no.
PowerPoint is so commonplace that it's no longer questioned. This ought to change, according to Smith. He claims that the program leaves little space to think for oneself. That is why teaching with PowerPoint is not only boring, but it even dulls the sharpest minds. Furthermore, it keeps observers dumb and irresponsible.
According to Andrew Smith the 'summing up culture' was born in the late 1950s, when businesses discovered marketing. Marketeers created needs and companies developed products that made use of those needs. Corporate departments had to sell each other ideas. The marketeers presented sales stories, originally with the overhead projector, the precursor of PowerPoint. The resolution of the overhead projector was so low, that the font sizes had to be big. Only a few words fitted on a slide and so many slides were made. Everything was put in 'bullet points' and was presented that way. During such a pitch, the observers were asked nothing but to listen. PowerPoint 'bullets' leave no space for discussion. And that made such a presentation extremely boring.
Illusion of control
But what Smith finds much worse is that PowerPoint gives us the illusion that we understand and control problems. That way, we disable our critical mind, while not all problems can be captured in a summary. PowerPoint also only gives statements and comparisons. It seems as if no-one is responsible for the contents. And that can be dangerous. If someone does not feel responsible, they will not take up responsibility.
Largest threat: laziness
Finally, Smith warns us for another threat. If a teacher abandons his PowerPoint, students will ask for it. They feel it's easy, because otherwise they will have to make their own notes. And that, according to Smith, is our biggest enemy this century: laziness. He says PowerPoint reinforces that laziness.
Fortunately he also names a few speakers who replace the bullets in their PowerPoint by images. Like Steve Jobs, for example. Those images tickle the brain and encourage thought. Perhaps it's not the tool, but the speaker who disables the critical mind?