That is Edward Tufte, professor emeritus at Yale University, throwing a bit of social criticism at Microsoft's well-known software program by re-imagining Lord Acton's famous saying.
I just discovered Tufte - much later of course than his wife and no doubt thousands of other people - while preparing to teach Apple Valley's varsity teens a very short series of Sunday School classes on media ecology. We start this Sunday.
Tufte has done something most educators and pastors of the modern era have not done. He has rigorously questioned the value of PowerPoint as a medium of communication.
What greatly sparked his interest and drove him to write his highly regarded 2006 essay, The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint, was the in-flight destruction of the space shuttle Columbia on February 1, 2003. You may recall that when theColumbia launched in January a piece of foam insulation broke off and punctured the shuttle's left wing. While the shuttle was safely in orbit engineers from NASA and Boeing debated how serious the hole was and what should be done, if anything. The primary medium used in these debates: PowerPoint presentations.
Later that year when the Columbia Accident Investigation Board published its report (August, 2003), they referenced Tufte's work and said"the endemic use of PowerPoint slides” was “an illustration of the problematic methods of technical communication at NASA.” Six years further on, Colonel Thomas X. Hammes, a fellow at National Defense University, would write in theArmed Forces Journal that PowerPoint was still having a "toxic effect" in the military as “senior decision-makers are making more decisions with less preparation and less time for thought.”
Should not PowerPoint users, especially those who bring PowerPoint into the worship of God, perform the due diligence needed to understand how a congregation raised on PowerPoint in worship comes to think about God and/or not to think about Him? How will a congregation raised on song slides and sermon slides come to think about worship and sermons?
In a superb Wheaton College chapel message Dr. Read Stuchardt raised the question about using screens in worship: Do these screens "...help us to hear God? Listening requires the practice of listening, just as music requires the practice of music. Video screens may condition us to be willing to listen only if we can tolerate looking. Which is an effect that has already completely transformed the music industry and which is why all your pop stars are so hot and can not sing very well. Whereas the old pop stars weren't very good looking but could sing beautifully" (see Stuchardt's whole 30-minute talk here).
Debra Dean Murphy in her essay, PowerPointless, says: "To use PowerPoint in worship is to unwittingly set up a competition between what is projected on the screen and the human voice doing the preaching, praying or singing. And it's a contest that PowerPoint always wins because, as Richard Lischer has obeserved, when the brain is asked to listen and watch at the same time, it always quits listening. What PowerPoint enthusiasts see as enhancing the worship experience is instead a form of sensory overload that manipulates emotions and stifles imaginations."
You are beginning to understand what we will be doing in the next Sunday School unit for teens. We will talk about PowerPoint for sure but much more. I will introduce the teens to some of the thinkers, scholars and scientists who do a fine job questioning media before they consume it. We will talk especially about media and humanness,media and worship, media and love, media and attention span, media and self-control and finally,media and loneliness.