View Full Version : Why Dissensus?

24-10-2004, 11:00 AM
The word 'dissensus' came to me while I was sitting on the 28th floor of Centrepoint a few weeks ago.

They took me to the top of the mountain

The view was of course stunning, literally sublime: London in all its unmanageable vastness, seen from both above and from its very heart. It was high, so high, and with the long table in front of you and the metropolis below, you felt like you should be crushing the economies of third world countries.

I was there for a meeting about Moodle, which is a 'Virtual Learning Environment', a fairly new - and, so it would turn out, very exciting - open source educational software application. I knew nothing about it and when were 'put into groups' by the Blairite Komissar in charge, I simply asked what were the merits of Moodle as opposed to using html. Cue black looks and frowns from the initiates. The Komissar, who has joined our group, tells me, in <i>the nicest possible way</i> of course, that I 'seemed to be sceptical and might like to think about my attitude.'

Aha! So being sceptical is pathological now. Rude. I geddit.

Course, quick as a flash, I replied. 'Yeh... and <i>you</i> 'might like to think about' being a Blairite managerialist.'

'Blairite?' He replied, clearly stunned at having his politesse challenged. At being counter-pathologized.

Later, a woman from Dublin College, also in our group, launches a not-before-time assault on Powerpoint ('death by bullet point'.... 'something used by people with no charisma...', as someone rightly said on Danny Baker's radio show this week). She pointed out that she had done a presentation a few weeks ago and people had been appalled and outraged that SHE DID NOT HAVE POWERPOINT. As she rightly argued, if you have an organized mind, there really is little need for Powerpoint.

Cue Komissar, again. 'Powerpoint? Rubbish? It's just a <i>tool</i> isn't it?'

I didn't say the following, but I wish I had: Well, not really Mr Progtech Microsoft, that's a rather naive view of technology donchathink ... Technology, especially MS techology, has a tendency to induce behaviours, it does not 'enable' some pre-existent human 'creativity' ... (Sure, there can be innovative uses of Powerpoint, but we all know what the Standard use of Powerpoint involves... total redundancy... banal bullet points apologetically talked through.. sentences tailing off... 'well, as you can see...'.... all in the name of 'Professionalism'....)

Blairite power IS microsoft... in every sense... diffuse... emolliating... blandly inescapable....

And you only see its real face when you challenge it, step outside the smothering consensus of politeness.

The English master class are the only people for whom hypocrisy is not only acceptable, but obligatory.

'Yes, yes, you have a grievance, yes, of course things are totally unjust. But there are ways of going about things, old chap. Procedures. <I>Aggression</i>, confrontation, they never get anything done, do they? (And after all, they are a little <I>vulgar</I>, don't you think?) Now, that's not what <i>I'm</i> saying, I think your intensity is admirable, but <i>other</i> people, well. They're not quite so <i>intelligent</i>. <i>They</i> won't understand. So I would advise moderating it a bit. For your own sake. Carry on like this and things might get uh <i>difficult</i> for you....'

Stupidity and cowardice are always the stupidity and cowardice of the other.

Power is always the power of the big other, that which speaks <i>through you</I> and <i>of whom</i> you speak.

25-10-2004, 12:11 PM
Hi Mark, would be interested in more of your thoughts on moodle: we've been using it at work since the summer, and the university (large, slightly non-typical Russel Group) has now decided it to adopt it en masse. (because it's free, of course, nothing to do with the pedagogical model behind it).

25-10-2004, 12:24 PM
Did you hear that programme on Powerpoint and the decline of civilisation on Radio 4 the other day, Mark? I think it's still up on the Beeb website.

Alan Connor
25-10-2004, 09:09 PM
Technology, especially MS techology, has a tendency to induce behaviours, it does not 'enable' some pre-existent human 'creativity'...

Have you explored Edward Tufte (http://www.edwardtufte.com/) on this topic? Here's some blurb for The Cognitive Style Of PowerPoint (http://www.edwardtufte.com/tufte/books_pp):

the popular PowerPoint templates (ready-made designs) usually weaken verbal and spatial reasoning, and almost always corrupt statistical analysis. What is the problem with PowerPoint? And how can we improve our presentations?

25-10-2004, 11:10 PM
Alan, no --- haven't come across any systematic critique of powerpoint --- just anecdotal grumbling --- this sounds like something Ccru would have made up as a hyperstitional avatar --- i.e. brilliant...

Alex --- sounds like YOU shd be telling me about Moodle --- I was incredibly excited about it and the whole can-do kyber-punk vibe surrounding it ---- and there was a guy there from OSS Watch, the Open Source group from Oxford, who was INCREDIBLY positive --- like one of the no-nonsense hyper-knowledgable hacker types from Stephenson's Cryptonomicon, or like <a href=http://www.urbanomic.com/MT/sphaleotas/>Sphaleotas</a>, but American ----

I only get 40 hrs a year remission to do the Moodle, so I have decided to start work on that in the 'soft time' at the end of the college year after the exams --- but in the meantime keen for any tips or ideas anyone's had...

26-10-2004, 01:02 AM
'Powerpoint? Rubbish? It's just a tool isn't it?'

You might want to keep it simple for this guy, Mark - when the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem is a nail.

For marketing purposes, all applications are defined by their capabilities, which is why features proliferate to the point of negative utility, but from the user's viewpoint, it's always about what they don't allow you to do.

26-10-2004, 09:18 AM
In the medical research institute where I work, Powerpoint is widely used by staff, students and IT for research seminars, poster presentations, and even for simple image manipulation (due to its flexibilty with file formats and ease of use). It is widely recognised that the quality of seminars - both in their content and accessibility - has vastly improved over recent years, thanks to the wider use of this tool. In terms of content, powerpoint enables an efficient, natural and flexible organisation of information. Of course, like any software, the blind application of templates will lead to confused results - a reflection of the confused thinking of the author rather than a fault of the software. Some level headed responses to Tufte's hysterical assessment of the software can be found here: http://www.sociablemedia.com/articles_dispute.htm .

Alternatives to Powerpoint are relatively few (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Presentation_software) , and while many of these are little more than clones, apparently some of the commercial products are in some ways superior. A long time Linux user, I use no other microsoft product, but am yet to find anything in the Opensource world as efficient given my needs. The point being, it is the mundane fact that software design is difficult that is the primary reason for both the ubiquity and weaknesses of PowerPoint. One should not blame it (nor its owners) for its misuse by confused people, without carefully considering the software design issues involved, no more than a politician, or political tendency, should be blamed for a bored workshop leader - something that's hardly a new phenomenon.

'Blairite power IS microsoft... in every sense... diffuse... emolliating... blandly inescapable....' I have trouble finding ANY sense here.

26-10-2004, 08:41 PM
while I agree with K Punk's powerpoint points generally (for conformist twits who've never really left school/home), hasn't David Byrne been doing something quite interesting with it recently?

27-10-2004, 12:12 PM
I agree Powerpoint CAN be used effectively; the fact remains that - at least in my experience and that of many others I have spoken to - it simply is NOT. Why can't people listen, or read key points off a blackboard? As Jennifer said at the Moodle meeting, if the speaker has an organized mind, what does Powerpoint add? The amount of meetings which I have attended in which there is multiple redundancy beggar belief-- the speaker ---- the same points onscreen in bullet points --- a photocopy of the slide show --- and then a disc to take home with the Powerpoint presentation too! Great....

As a GENERAL RULE, Powerpoint encourages stupidity on the part of both the audience and the lecturer --- it is literally STUPEFYING --- encouraging the belief that public presentations must be tramlined through rigid and inflexible bullet pointed inanities and the idea that people cannot digest anything unless it is cut up into iccy liccle morsels of data which they are then spoonfed ----

Course, as with anything else, imaginative people can use it imaginatively --- problem though, as Jennifer complained, is that MicroStupefying presentations are becoming standard, insisted upon --- 'What, you're making me sit up and listen, and THINK? What's going on?'

There's a sinister agenda with this in education to do with 'student-centredness'. Education should precisely not be 'student-centred', it should be learning-centred. The Blairite model wants educators to pander to students' laziness and intransigence by taking things down to where they are (please note, I'm not saying ALL students are lazy etc: most of my students are brilliant, dedicated, hungry for discourse) - that's why Meeja studies is so popular. Course, you have to start where the students are, but to end up there too and call it education is unforgivable. Any teacher who is less interesting or engaging than a Progtech Flash presentation with a dancing paperclip saying 'it looks like you want to type a comma, can I help you with that?' should give up now.

'Blairite power IS microsoft... in every sense... diffuse... emolliating... blandly inescapable....' I have trouble finding ANY sense here.

Ok, i'll start a thread on dat asap...

27-10-2004, 10:40 PM
It is very strange that power(point) seems to want us to sit in rooms becoming more and more tired and bored - I thought power wanted us to WORK UNTIL WE DIE - perhaps all of our jobs nowadays are a bit like a hospice, just a place you sit around in until you expire with boredom. And this phenomenon is not restricted to just the workplace - what could be more tedious than a University these days? A space in which all ideas must have the energy squashed out of them..

30-10-2004, 07:42 AM
Powerpoint, for better or worse, is the new standard in my work (art history + theory), a sea change from the magic-lantern slide projection. The new medium has its merits: it's hard to have a discussion with a whirring, hissing, clacking machine in the center of the table. I wonder how I learned anything at all during the slide days, when hearing the smart one across the class was only managed by lip-reading

But of course for me powerpoint's not bullet points just pictures. Another positive for those of us in the art field is that it frees us from the constant dual-slide projection, AKA the "slide comparison," whose dialectic logic makes for a field governed by endless, ridiculous binaries. On the other hand: slides have a cinematic mystery that digital media don't. They're essentially phantasmagoric, flashing lights in the darkness. Digital media projectors have a dull, atomized look in comparison.

31-10-2004, 08:12 PM
I agree that Powerpoint is an effective slide projector... that's the only way I'd use it.. it's when the WHOLE of the presentation is nothing but PP that things go to shit...

03-11-2004, 06:00 PM
I find the whole powerpoint thing bizarre in the opposite way, too. The number of meetings I attend which consist of people essentially reading out a set of PP slides. I'd rather just read the bloody things myself.

03-11-2004, 09:48 PM
I agree that Powerpoint is an effective slide projector... that's the only way I'd use it.. it's when the WHOLE of the presentation is nothing but PP that things go to shit...

you can imbed moving pictures in it too, one of the first jobs i had when i moved up to london was editing footage to go into powerpoint shows that i also had to make which would then be shown to corporate clients like british airways. this was a luzury service to try and make dull men seem hi tech

grim, after not using software for about a month you strangely forget how to use it..

I'd like to see artists exploit some of these programmes, or at least build more versatile models of them, ones that maybe loose control... i'd like to see powerpoint bubble up like bacteria ..

I don't know many artists that have exploited the pixilated buffering of things like windows media player, that would be interesting, dropping subliminal images in etc
although some people are already on top of things like the nightvision factors of digital video, I saw a show fairly recently.

Grievous Angel
04-11-2004, 05:12 PM
For marketing purposes, all applications are defined by their capabilities, which is why features proliferate to the point of negative utility
No, that's when marketing fails. You're talking about product management without real marketing input.

but from the user's viewpoint, it's always about what they don't allow you to do.
Yeah, Eno's point.

Grievous Angel
04-11-2004, 05:21 PM
I've hated powerpoint for years, but mainly because it's too fucking hard to use, too clunky, too... unforgiving. It's that which largely drives the really awful presentations that, in particular, academics unused to its mysteries unintentionally churn out. And then it really is a Bad Thing -- there is literally no time left to do anything but futz with PP. Mind you I used to have to use Persuasion on the Mac -- I tell you, I gave Paul Brainerd (founder of Aldus) a right fucking kicking for that piece of shit back in the early nineties.

And I still don't really like it, but it definitely has its uses and I wouldn't be without it. One great thing to do -- get a load of ideas down in Word or whatever. Later, try and get them laid out in PP so they make sense -- you'll see a load of new angles.

Presentations are all about your ability to communicate with the group anyway -- the slides are just a tool.

People here should check out MindManager -- a mind map creating tool. Very rapid ideas processing and recording software. Though I'm still not sure you're not better off getting your thoughts down on PAPER first, getting your mind straight, and then getting it formally laid out in, well, any software that takes your fancy.

04-11-2004, 05:25 PM
Along the lines of Mind Map but free and cross-platform - check out Free Mind (http://freemind.sourceforge.net/wiki/index.php/Main_Page).

27-05-2005, 01:00 PM
I'm not sure if I feel threatened as either a presenter or attendee of powerpoint presentations. Keeping the number of words to a minimum - bullet point style, would seem more like a virtue than an evil to me. I'm not even sure if that would make me a Blairite. Powerpoint or no powerpoint, every time I write a report, give a talk or otherwise I'm in need of skill to strike a balance between too much and too little detail. Powerpoint can be a tool but it can't replace the need for that skill. If the introduction of powerpoint has insidious side effects on society so, surely, did the introduction of a quill and parchment!

27-05-2005, 01:27 PM
A long time Linux user, I use no other microsoft product, but am yet to find anything in the Opensource world as efficient given my needs.

i use latex plus the <A href="http://sourceforge.net/projects/latex-beamer/">beamer</A> presentation class. it is very effective. not having used PP, i cannot compare beamer and microsoft's product, but i'm being told that beamer compares well.

14-06-2005, 07:33 PM
Can't help but agree with the Powerpoint critics... as an Psychology teacher in a largish provincial FE College PP is used as a weapon in a number of ways:

1) To force crystallised Aims and Objectives even when the topic area may be skills based or 'kinaesthetic' (urgh!) or otherwise abstract / non committal . Objectification is apparently the motive here since the abstract ( in the sense of the non-manageable and the non-measured) is anathema.

2) to destablise 'luddite' older teachers (who apparently all speak using words like "fangled") - this is particularly apparent at Board meetings where non-Powerpoint presentations (i.e. talking) are looked upon as suspiciously old school / silver book / Marxist. - here PP seems associated with 'new' which is always associated with 'good'

3) To impose simplifcation and commodification: if something can't be put into a bite size Mission Statement then it never happened.... Ideas are capital but they need to be big ideas made small not small ideas made big.

This is not to say that it cannot be a useful tool (everything can be a useful tool) but that it is not intended to be a useful tool.

14-06-2005, 10:18 PM
I recently saw powerpoint used in a funeral home to accompany the speaker's summary of the life of the deceased. No bullet points fortunately ( 1925 - X attended primary school at ..etc ..) but it was strange to see techniques of bureaucracy applied in this context, even in death you can't escape managerialism.

Actually it was quite a nice speech and the powerpoint was used as a slideshow really, but I did find the concept a little disturbing, not sure that it bodes well for the future of funerals.

15-06-2005, 11:16 AM
that's vile

16-06-2005, 09:29 AM
that's vile


16-06-2005, 11:59 PM
It sounds worse than it was, there weren't any dissolves between slides or nothing

11-07-2005, 05:40 PM
The traditional Powerpoint presentation is rarely informative. It possibly goes beyond the reduncency mentioned upthread in that the audience is often distracted from the speaker by the text and unable to concentrate on reading what's on the screen because of the speaker... The worst Powerpoint presentation moments are where a list of bullet points is shown on the screen and the speaker goes through them. The audience has to sit through points that it has already read as well as seeing the speaker struggle to paraphrase and make it sound fresh...

I read that Powerpoint is now being used to make animation. Apparently the pioneers of this were webmasters making animated advertising banners for porn sites, almost always depicting a 'money shot' - which seems rather appropriate...

21-06-2007, 10:51 AM
PowerPoint Turns 20, As Its Creators Ponder A Dark Side to Success

One of the most elegant, most influential and most groaned-about pieces of software in the history of computers is 20 years old. There won't be a lot of birthday celebrations for PowerPoint; the program is one the world loves to mock almost as much as it loves to use.

While PowerPoint has served as the metronome for countless crisp presentations, it has also allowed an endless expanse of dimwit ideas to be dressed up with graphical respectability. And not just in conference rooms, but also in the likes of sixth-grade book reports and at PowerPointSermons.com.

As it happens, what might be called the downside of the culture of PowerPoint is something that bemuses, concerns and occasionally appalls PowerPoint's two creators as much as it does everyone else.

Robert Gaskins was the visionary entrepreneur who in the mid-1980s realized that the huge but largely invisible market for preparing business slides was a perfect match for the coming generation of graphics-oriented computers. Scores of venture capitalists disagreed, insisting that text-based DOS machines would never go away.

With major programming done by Dennis Austin, an old chum, PowerPoint 1.0 for Macs came out in 1987. Later that year, Microsoft bought the company for $14 million, its first acquisition, and three years later a Windows version followed.

Mr. Gaskins and Mr. Austin, now 63 and 60, respectively, reflected on PowerPoint's creation and its current omnipresence in an interview last week. They are intensely proud of their technical and strategic successes. But to a striking degree, they aren't the least bit defensive about the criticisms routinely heard of PowerPoint. In fact, the best single source of PowerPoint commentary, both pro and con, (including a rich vein of Dilbert cartoons) can be found at RobertGaskins.com, his personal home page.

Perhaps the most scathing criticism comes from the Yale graphics guru Edward Tufte, who says the software "elevates format over content, betraying an attitude of commercialism that turns everything into a sales pitch." He even suggested PowerPoint played a role in the Columbia shuttle disaster, as some vital technical news was buried in an otherwise upbeat slide.

No quarrel from Mr. Gaskins: "All the things Tufte says are absolutely true. People often make very bad use of PowerPoint."

Mr. Gaskins reminds his questioner that a PowerPoint presentation was never supposed to be the entire proposal, just a quick summary of something longer and better thought out. He cites as an example his original business plan for the program: 53 densely argued pages long. The dozen or so slides that accompanied it were but the highlights.

Since then, he complains, "a lot of people in business have given up writing the documents. They just write the presentations, which are summaries without the detail, without the backup. A lot of people don't like the intellectual rigor of actually doing the work."

One of the problems, the men say, is that with PowerPoint now bundled with Office, vastly more people have access to the program than the relatively small group of salespeople for which is was intended. When video projectors became small and cheap, just about every room on earth became PowerPoint-ready.

Now grade-school children turn in book reports via PowerPoint. The men call that an abomination. Children, they emphatically agree, need to think and write in complete paragraphs.

Still, the men don't appreciate PowerPoint being blamed for crimes it didn't commit. Mr. Gaskins studied a vast collection of presentations before designing the program. Bullet points, he says, existed long before PowerPoint.

While the two certainly know how to use PowerPoint, neither consider themselves true power users. They don't even know many of the advanced features it has come to sport. They also have no patience with cubicle warriors who, in the guise of doing actual work, spend endless hours fiddling with fonts. And they like telling the joke that the best way to paralyze an opposition army is to ship it PowerPoint and, thus, contaminate its decision making, something some analysts say has happened at the Pentagon.

Both left Microsoft in the 1990s and now pursue personal projects. Mr. Austin attended every day of last week's Apple developer conference, keeping up with the kids. While the two agree there is probably room for a PowerPoint-like program for building high-end Web sites, neither has any desire to create it.

Not being the self-promoting type, neither of the men are particularly bothered about being much less famous than their creation. Whenever they do tell a stranger what they did in life, they usually hear how much the person can't live without the program.

If they have a lament, it's that complaints about PowerPoint are usually not about the software but about bad presentations. "It's just like the printing press," says Mr. Austin. "It enabled all sorts of garbage to be printed."

As Mr. Gaskins puts it: "If they do an inadequate job with PowerPoint, they would do just as bad using something else."

21-06-2007, 10:59 AM
Yeah, I can't remember bugger all of any use after sitting through a powerpoint presentation at work. Just give me some proper printed info to read through a few times.

21-06-2007, 12:00 PM
Part of my work is to deliver technical training. I attended an Institute of IT Trainers course where they said that use of PowerPoints and Demonstrations - i.e. passive audience were worse than useless. It certainly opened my eyes. I now deliver a five day technical training course with no slides whatsoever. It took a while to adapt but I love it and so do people on the course.

I explain a concept - draw on the board, invite people to ask questions or to copy my notes (usually I have a handout with the diagram/notes for them) and then try it for themselves in practice. I also give them a folder of tech briefs to take away as per "swears" comment above.

So yeah, PP sucks, I can't use it and now luckily I don't have to!

Mr. Tea
21-06-2007, 12:36 PM
I recently saw powerpoint used in a funeral home to accompany the speaker's summary of the life of the deceased. No bullet points fortunately...

Holy shit!
I hope he did it properly - multicoloured Comic Sans, clip-art stick men, animated slide transitions...

21-06-2007, 12:37 PM
I also use beamer. I don't think it is much different from pp in the end but the result may be different b/c it doesn't come with presets (or maybe I am just too ignorant a user?).

Is anyone but me puzzled about the relation between this content and the thread title?

21-06-2007, 12:59 PM
Is anyone but me puzzled about the relation between this content and the thread title?

Dissent against Blairite middle-manager types that use powerpoint?
Sounds good to me!

21-06-2007, 01:49 PM
Is anyone but me puzzled about the relation between this content and the thread title?
Yes :)

Mr. Tea
21-06-2007, 02:12 PM
I quite like PowerPoint, it's easy to use and it gets things done.
And you can make cool stuff with it, like this:


21-06-2007, 04:45 PM
I use blackboards.