The main image on the cover of the New York Times today is an incredibly confusing PowerPoint slide "meant to portray the complexity of the American strategy in Afghanistan." According to the New York Times, it looks more like "a bowl of spaghetti." General McChrystal is reported as having looked at it last summer and replying like this:
"When we understand that slide, we'll have won the war," General McChrystal dryly remarked... as the room erupted in laughter.
The piece—front page! main story!—goes on to say that "Like an insurgency, PowerPoint has crept into the daily lives of military commanders and reached the level of near obsession." General Petraeus calls sitting through a PowerPoint presentation "just agony." Gen. James N. Mattis of the Marine Corps says, "PowerPoint makes us stupid." General H. R. McMaster—"who banned PowerPoint presentations when he led the successful effort to secure the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar in 2005"—is quoted as saying that PowerPoint is "dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control. Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable." Commanders also say that "the program stifles discussion" and that "the slides impart less information than a five-page paper can hold." A retired Marine colonel refers to giving half-hour PowerPoint presentations as "hypnotizing chickens." The Times refers casually to "the numbing sensation that accompanies a 30-slide briefing" and reports that "senior officers say the program does come in handy when the goal is not imparting information."
I called Microsoft's International Public Relations team today to get a comment on the story. The spokesperson asked if she could call me back. I'll post Microsoft's response as soon as she does.
UPDATE: A Microsoft spokesperson just wrote to me to say:
PowerPoint continues to be the best tool to creatively bring someone's ideas to life and effectively educate and persuade. But like any tool, people and organizations have to figure out how it works best for them. We have all seen amazing as well as boring PowerPoint presentations, but from grade school children presenting a science project to business executives closing a multi-million dollar deal, PowerPoint is a part of our daily lives and the presentation tool of choice for millions of people.