Having gone on record against the narrative-killing malevolence of PowerPoint (“Unsure? Tell a story . . .”), I was pleased to see that the most popular story in The New York Times this week documents military commanders’ disgust with the fancy slide show. But we haters have little impact: recently someone asked me if I could give a presentation in PowerPoint on a magazine article I wrote. No and no!
The Times‘ April 26 story by Elisabeth Bumiller refers to a recent evisceration of PowerPoint in Armed Forces Journal by retired Marine Corps officer T.X. Hammes, who writes in his essay, “Make no mistake, PowerPoint is not a neutral tool — it is actively hostile to thoughtful decision-making. It has fundamentally changed our culture by altering the expectations of who makes decisions, what decisions they make and how they make them.”
Like an insurgency, PowerPoint has crept into the daily lives of military commanders and reached the level of near obsession. The amount of time expended on PowerPoint, the Microsoft presentation program of computer-generated charts, graphs and bullet points, has made it a running joke in the Pentagon and in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“PowerPoint makes us stupid,” Gen. James N. Mattis of the Marine Corps, the Joint Forces commander, said this month at a military conference in North Carolina. (He spoke without PowerPoint.) Brig. Gen. H. R. McMaster, who banned PowerPoint presentations when he led the successful effort to secure the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar in 2005, followed up at the same conference by likening PowerPoint to an internal threat. . . .
Commanders say that behind all the PowerPoint jokes are serious concerns that the program stifles discussion, critical thinking and thoughtful decision-making. Not least, it ties up junior officers—referred to as PowerPoint Rangers—in the daily preparation of slides, be it for a Joint Staff meeting in Washington or for a platoon leader’s pre-mission combat briefing in a remote pocket of Afghanistan.