James Tilly Matthews, a tea dealer living in London in the late 18th century, believed there was a conspiracy whereby a secret cabal controlled government figures through this Air Loom, a technological apparatus that allowed its operators to be pupeteers to the official British elites. James Matthews was committed to an asylum in 1809 and his case is, according to Wikipedia, the first documented paranoid schizophrenia.
Still, people have always believed in the existence of mind-control technologies, like witchcraft, fluor in the water, secret satellites, secret chemicals launched from commercial airplanes, etc. These beliefs exist in an intersection between sensationalism, gullibility, and mental illness, but lest us not forget, are also a genuine symptom of very legitimate worries about power and about technology. Paraphrasing that apocryphal quote often attributed to McLuhan, we may shape our tools, but our tools indeed shape us – our thinking, our relationships, our society.
Powerpoint. Powerpoint’s ubiquity is heavily criticized but very rarely acted upon. Its danger lies in the way it enables simplistic thinking and even more simplistic presentation. Students start to see courses, as I’ve seen described the other day, “as mere collections of slides”, requiring no harder work than flipping through them. In the infamous examples presented by Edward Tufte, Powerpoint may have cost many lives, in enabling sloppy safety precautions and engineering of the Space Shuttle Columbia, or in presenting a simplistic case for invading another country, as in the US intervention in Iraq. In Switzerland, a political party was even formed with the aim of outlawing Powerpoint. This might be an important recognition that computer code is indeed becoming a form of legislation, but we’re not sure we agree with that approach.
There is another technology that influences thinking, and one might say also blinds us to nuance and complexity: fermentation.
Alcohol might have some benefits – for instance, a glass of red wine per day is alleged to prevent heart disease, and in the same fashion even Tufte allows Powerpoint as acceptable to be used to display images. Still, we all know the consequences of alcohol abuse. Powerpoint might seem quaint in comparison, but when US military commanders liken the use of Powerpoint to an internal threat, you know it might be dangerous as well.
So, in the Future Places Powerpointers Anonymous citizen lab we started to think of how can we stop abusing Powerpoint. This website starts from the first roundtable discussions between Daniel Pinheiro, Eduardo Morais, Ivana Stevic, Jaime Munárriz, Joana Lopes, Olga Glumac and Sofia Silva.
You are invited to think and share ideas and experiences on leaving or limiting Powerpoint abuse. Comment is free.