Mark D. Roberts

I just finished reading an intriguing article in the New York Times: “We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint” by Elisabeth Bumiller. Bumiller documents the omnipresence of PowerPoint in military briefings as well as the growing disdain for PowerPoint among those who give and receive these briefings.

Here are some representative excerpts:

powerpoint-navy-5.jpg“PowerPoint makes us stupid,” Gen. James N. Mattis of the Marine Corps,
the Joint Forces commander, said this month at a military conference in
North Carolina. (Photo: A naval vice admiral makes a presentation with PowerPoint.)

“It’s dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and
the illusion of control,” General McMaster said in a telephone
interview afterward. “Some problems in the world are not

Despite such tales, “death by PowerPoint,” the phrase used to described
the numbing sensation that accompanies a 30-slide briefing, seems here
to stay. The program,
which first went on sale in 1987 and was acquired by Microsoft soon
afterward, is deeply embedded in a military culture that has come to
rely on PowerPoint’s hierarchical ordering of a confused world.

Gen. David H. Petraeus,
who oversees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and says that sitting
through some PowerPoint briefings is “just agony,” nonetheless likes
the program for the display of maps and statistics showing trends. He
has also conducted more than a few PowerPoint presentations himself.

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.

Of course the military isn’t the only place one finds PowerPoint presentations. The use of digital projection is common in schools, universities, and churches. Many pastors use PowerPoint (or similar programs) in preaching and teaching.

So what do you think? Is PowerPoint the enemy? Or could it be a friend? When is the use of PowerPoint acceptable, even effective? When does it “make us stupid”? What do you think about PowerPoint in church? In sermons? 

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