Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, Ph.D.

I study people, technology, and the worlds they make

Possibly the bravest stance taken by a general

When I started doing work that got me involved with the military and… well, I never really found out where those guys with the very short haircuts, no last names on their conference badges, and vague replies to the question “where do you work” all come from… one of the things that really struck me was how much they all love PowerPoint. Military people love PowerPoint. So I was struck to see Tom Ricks blog:

Marine Gen. James Mattis, one of the most thoughtful of our military leaders… began by making a point about the limitations of conventional firepower: Our military, he said, “must avoid being dominant and irrelevant at the same time.” I hadn’t heard that formulation before.

Mattis also spoke without any computer graphics. “The reason I didn’t use PowerPoint is, I am convinced PowerPoint makes us stupid.”

Though he’s not alone:

Army Brig. Gen. H.R. McMaster, who also spoke at the conference, also took a pop at PowerPoint, saying that when combined with certain ill-advised metrics, it “is really dangerous.”

Interesting. I wonder what they would make of Prezi?

[To the tune of Tabla Beat Science, “Satellite (Show Me The Worth Of The World),” from the album Live in San Francisco at Stern Grove (a 3-star song, imo).]


  1. Honestly, given what Tufte says about Powerpoint, these are rather tame. What matters is that McMaster’s comment is really quite biting. Remember, he wrote the book arguing that the JCS betrayed the military as well as the nation by not making public what the military knew to be the case–that Vietnam was impossible. The ill-advised metrics comment is a dig at body counts. Think about it–he is comparing PP to body counts.

  2. The BBC’s language programme ‘Word of Mouth’ featured a discussion of PPT about six months ago, with some reference to its influence in military circles. You may not be able to get to the original, but I quote it here:

  3. This happens to be my professional milieu, and yes, the Death By Powerpoint affliction is acute. I’ve also had the Prezi question. I intend to give it a try eventually.

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