A RADIO FOUR PROGRAMME has fingered Microsoft's Powerpoint application for a number of crimes.
The station's Word of Mouth programme, aired yesterday afternoon, threw a slew of accusations at Microsoft's flagship Office presentation component, including the suggestion that it forces us to think and speak in a certain way. A certain way that is apparently punctuated with bullet points, arrows, and other slide-based gittishness.
Whether you like it or not, and personally it makes me want to defenestrate myself, Powerpoint is virtually everywhere. According to the radio show it has created a number of serious issues in some of the world's most high-profile institutions. Indeed, Radio Four presenter Chris Ledgard pulled no punches and hurled the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster in our faces. NASA engineers, he said, long had a culture of using Powerpoint - a culture that encouraged shortcuts and synopsis and discouraged boring things like carefully delivering important, clearly detailed information.
It is well known that NASA admitted it had problems with Powerpoint in its engineering programmes, but did you know that some important information about the risks of using foam on the shuttle was shoved into a presentation slide as a footnote displayed in a small font? An on-hand expert does. Worse still, it is likely that had this information been presented in a different manner it might not have been overlooked and Columbia could have made history for different and happier reasons.
Closer to home, the British Army too has felt the impact of Powerpoint. Again it was felt that the presentations led to briefings that were too brief, unclear and difficult to change even if some important new information appeared after the presentation slides had been painstakingly produced.
Major-General John Drewienkiewicz said that Powerpoint 'hit' the Army and forced it into communicating in a certain way, a way that was too brief for daily briefings and often created confusion as opposed to alleviating it. Plus you got the distinct impression that he would rather have lugged an overhead projector and a long sheet of clear plastic about the Balkans with him. On returning home he found that Powerpoint had 'infected' the British army. Presumably a bit like syphilis used to.
Not everyone hates Powerpoint however. A bunch of groovy-sounding students said that they appreciated its use in lectures - particularly for its graphics, colours and movement. However this came with a caveat from yet another expert who explained that despite their appreciation of the medium they probably weren't learning anything. Which makes us wonder if they wouldn't have been better off slacking at home watching Japanese morality cartoons and smoking pot.
Meanwhile, somewhere in a darkened pub in Leeds, drunks gather to sing Powerpoint karaoke - a compounding of evils that might lead the devil to hang up his horns.
Fortunately the Vole was on hand to defend its product. Andrew Brook-Holmes, a Microsoft Office client product manager, burbled that Powerpoint is a blank canvas that can be used by businesses, technical audiences, and educational institutions alike. He then backtracked on this, adding that perhaps it wasn't best suited for all uses before falling back on his blank canvas metaphor again. Possibly he's more used to putting his thoughts across in another medium. µ