Death by Slide Deck: The Threat to Office Safety

Ask me to name the two worst inventions of the late 20th century, whose existence continues to threaten the lives of free and enslaved peoples alike, from Americans to Russians to Indians and Pakistanis to Israelis and Iranians, and I will cite neither the proliferation of nuclear weapons nor the popularization of the internal combustion engine. I believe a mushroom cloud will no sooner incinerate mankind than I think automotive exhaust will exhaust our ability to breathe, leaving us too weak to save the environment before we take our last breath.

In the face of such evil, the real enemy is the banality of the soft tools of our own destruction: PowerPoint and Excel, in which the former suppresses speech by rendering it superfluous, while the latter nullifies the meaning of numbers by turning math into a sort of black magic.

If you question my assertions, ask yourself when you first saw—never mind when you first saw the need to create—a PowerPoint presentation that had a happy ending. When did you last see an executive go before his shareholders and click his way through a series of slides, which were as honest as they were horrifying? When did you last hear of a general who, armed with nothing more than a laser pointer, pointed to a deck that predicted defeat rather than victory; whose every slide looked like the same card—the Major Arcana—from a deck of Tarot cards symbolizing Death? When did your boss last tell you to be positive instead of pragmatic, when using PowerPoint?

The same is true of Excel, the go-to application for Wall Street traders and the means for spreading traitorous information throughout Main Street. If I seem too ready to exaggerate the influence of a spreadsheet, help me answer the following: When did a major bank produce a credible chart before it was too big to fail? When did the government publish an accurate report before it had to bail out General Motors and the economy in general?

To ask these questions is to answer them.

If we demand fiction, let authors—not hacks—write it.

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