Yesterday I had something of a minor argument with a colleague. It went a little like this:

Them: “Google Slides isn’t as good at Powerpoint.”
Me: “Yes it is.”
Them: “Well, I suppose it’s OK if you’re using it to do presentations.”

At which point I bit my lip. It was a fair, if infuriating, point.

Powerpoint has become a proxy application for documents that are designed to be consumed on screen, rather than in print. It’s become a microcosm of the lack of fit-for-purpose “productivity” apps (whether from Microsoft, Google or open source) which describe a set of activities that we increasingly don’t do. We don’t present; we don’t print; we really shouldn’t spreadsheet (the dirty secret of the entire IT industry).

Producing “a deck” has become a synonym for “produce me something that explains something in sub-par English, riddled with bullet points and ill-thought diagrams because most of this organisation has forgotten how to both read and write”. If you can’t get your point across in less than 500 words, you haven’t got a point. Traffic light infographics don’t make up for it.

But producing “a deck” because it is easier to consume on screen also makes an assumption borne of the PC era – that that screen is 12″+ in the diagonal and horizontal. Tightly-packed slidedecks are just as, if not more, inconvenient to consume on a mobile screen than a portrait-format document designed in a tool that would be recognisable to Gutenberg.

Oh what to do. Our ability to create and consume information is becoming seriously constrained by our inability to collectively learn to use new technology. And the big manufacturers are making little progress: sure, there’s OneNote, but OneNote is all about Notes, not finished documents – and that’s the one new product to come out of the office suite in 15 years. Sure it has its fans, but most people don’t even know it exists.

Data stuck in slide decks is a scourge in modern organisations: it’s ill-formatted, impossible to mine, often “meta” in that things like traffic lights are hand-tinted, and inaccessible to mobile devices. How have we allowed this to happen?

3 thoughts on “On screen

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