(Host) Most people enjoy being read to, but recently commentator David Moats experienced a moment when he did not.
(Moats) Some people came to talk to me at work the other day. They had a presentation to make. There were three of us. We were sitting in a conference room. The guy said, “Look at this.” Look at this? He opened his laptop computer, and I went and sat down next to him, and he started his presentation.
Now don’t get me wrong. These were nice people with some important points to make. But this was the weirdest thing. As he went through his talk, words appeared on his computer screen, and as I watched the words appear and disappear, he read them to me. I looked at him. Is this really what you want to do – read to me?
I’ve since been told I had entered the world of Power Point. Power Point is a computer program. I am told people don’t make speeches anymore unless they can highlight their points on a screen. College professors are required to reduce their lectures to their key points and to flash them on the screen as they talk. If students are in luck, they don’t even have to go to the lecture. They can just log on to the professor’s web site and read the outline of his or her talk.
People talk about dumbing down our schools. Are we dumbing down our culture? Is it no longer possible for people to convey complicated information to one another without digesting it down to a few key, boring points.
I had the weirdest feeling while the guy was reading to me from his computer screen while I watched the words he was reading. I had the feeling he must think I’m an idiot, that I can’t figure out for myself what he’s saying unless he shrinks it down and we read the words together. Watch Spot run. Watch David fall asleep.
College students complain these days if professors don’t make their courses easy, and at some of our fancier schools, making students happy is more important than making them smart. I remember when I was a freshman I went to the first lecture of a philosophy class. I hadn’t a clue. I wasn’t happy at all. I was aghast at myself. I didn’t know what the guy was talking about. Luckily, he didn’t reduce his lecture to Power Points. Instead I had to go to the library to look up unfamiliar terms and to figure out what he was saying. It’s called education. Some of my most memorable lectures years ago came from an Indian professor of political philosophy who for an hour on end would allow his mind to unfurl a long complex web of thinking that might have crashed a computer if he’d tried to put it on Power Point.
We don’t need to dumb ourselves down. We don’t need to talk through computer screens and Power Point. In fact, watching stuff on a screen makes it more forgettable, not less. I think all we have to do is talk. And listen. I remember people. I forget Power Points.
This is David Moats from Middlebury.
David Moats is the editorial page editor for the Rutland Herald and winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing.