Just blame PowerPoint

Is PowerPoint the focus of evil in the modern world? Is it the secret cancer that has eaten away at the ability to think clearly, present information to others, and understand the inner meanings of things? Has it made our military weak and obsessed with presentations rather than combat?

A periodic rant against PowerPoint seems to be a mandatory part of the discourse. But there has been a flurry of it, particularly in its military manifestation.  First the New York Times blamed it for our inability to pacify Afghanistan. Then an ex-Marine writing in Armed Forces Journal blamed it for poor military thinking in general.

Yes, we are at the mercy of potentially powerful cognitive tools that are misused by fools for their own feeble and inane purposes. We know this.

But I find the notion that military briefings have been damaged by PowerPoint to be particularly absurd. Somehow I suspect that these hierarchy-obsessed exercises in obfuscation and butt-covering have always been pretty much the same.

I was a civilian engineer working with the military in the early 80s.  Back then we had no PowerPoint.  Instead, we had another miracle of up-to-the-minute technology: vugraphs and overhead projectors. Vugraphs were transparencies held in plastic frames. You typed them up and printed them. Then you projected them up on a screen. They usually consisted of a bunch of bullet points, incomprehensible acronyms and diagrams, and amusing quotations. I never saw a large meeting of military people where this technology was not used. I presume something similar was used while planning the Vietnam War.

It's not that I love PowerPoint or anything. Like most professionals in the modern American workplace, I have to create, edit, or sit through a large number of long decks with too many bullets. But PowerPoint is but one tiny ridge in the vast nail file that abrades my life. I'm not defending it, but I see no reason why it should get singled out for special abuse.