So Does This Mean I’m Stupid?

Not something that I would normally characterize myself as, but this was my initial thought after coming across a book by French journalist Franck Frommer entitled, How PowerPoint Makes You Stupid:  The Faulty Causality, Sloppy Logic, Decontextualized Data, and Seductive Showmanship That Have Taken Over Our Thinking.  Whew.  So I decided to read the book and although I am not a fan, (a future book review will further delve into my opinion),  there were some interesting observations made.

The man credited with inventing PowerPoint, Robert Gaskins, initially created the software for office meetings or the presentation of products and services.  For all the negative attributes of PowerPoint, there is a general consensus that PowerPoint transformed the concept of the meeting.  As Frommer points out, it is in fact almost impossible to contemplate a meeting without a presentation device.

But why is PowerPoint so popular?  The use of PowerPoint does not cease outside the Boardroom.  Its users run the gamut from students and teachers to advertisers and engineers.  PowerPoint has a universal appeal.  But why?

  • You can present material quickly
  • You can present material at a low cost
  • The presentations are accessible and reasonable for everyone
  • It allows even the most technical people to display their creative esthetic

(See what I did here?)

As an employee, student, and teacher, PowerPoint is almost an everyday part of my life …..Picture it:

You’ve been called to a meeting.  As you make your way into the room with your pen and pad, you see someone in the front of the room fumbling with a projector and laptop.  You immediately kick yourself for not bringing that report you need to read (or in my case that stack of papers that need to be graded).  You  find a seat and resign yourself to the newest, most boring meeting of your life.

This is precisely the fault Franck Frommer and others find with PowerPoint.  He cited a study which renamed PowerPoint presentations “corporate sleeping pills” (106).  Frommer feels that when PowerPoint is in use, the speaker is in direct competition with the presentation for the audiences’ attention.  Honestly, how many times have you gone through all the bullet points on a slide and began the descent into your lackadaisical stupor, all before the presenter finishes discussing the first bullet point?  Ironically, Frommer found that the very things used to bolster the effectiveness of presentations, such as bullet points, obtrude on the concentration of the audience and causes them to forget the material.

As an English teacher, my class does not heavily rely on PowerPoint.  I reserve usage for weekly vocabulary exercises and the occasional note on characterization or Shakespeare.  I imagine I am in the minority because Frommer fears we are dangerously close to an educational environment where kids stare blankly at screens in their workstations (which ironically makes me think of Ray Bradbury’s similar prediction of the future classroom in Fahrenheit 451).

In academia, the question surrounding PowerPoint becomes, “What is the pedagogical effectiveness of PowerPoint?  And can it improve learning” (199).  Through his research, Frommer found that students prefer PowerPoint because of its ability to print handouts of the slides and they find them to be entertaining.  However, there is little evidence to show that it impacts the grades students receive.  He also states PowerPoint has a negative effect in the classroom “because some students think they are learning when they half doze in front of slides that are supposed to enable them to digest hours and hours of a course or whole chapters of a textbook without writing a single note” (203).

So ultimately, I don’t think PowerPoint has made me stupid…although I often leave meetings feeling as such.  You can come to your own conclusion about its affect on you, but I believe it is important to mention that PowerPoint’s creator Robert Gaskins is no longer associated with the software.  According to Franck Frommer, he is now a specialist in the concertina (the little accordions that clown’s play).  True Story

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