A meeting of an academic board. Ten people. Eight Macs. One PC. The PC is projecting PowerPoint bullet lists about academic excellence, technological innovation, and social transformation. The presenter reads to the audience what is displayed on the screen, line by line (are these his speaker notes?). The audience is trying to follow but can’t help dozing or checking their emails. Looks familiar?
I rarely advocate Macs over PCs. There is no longer a need. Most of my academic colleagues have chosen Macs anyway: they are faster, last longer, and don’t get viruses. What I am sometimes crusading against are things like taking notes in Microsoft Word or preparing presentations (or worse – scientific figures) in PowerPoint. Nevertheless, my arguments are often dismissed as ‘pro-Apple’.
I hear that I am undermining the budget because Macs are more expensive. This is not true, at least on a full-cost, life-time basis. I am further accused of undermining academic collaboration by introducing incompatibility. This is even less true. I constantly collaborate with colleagues who use different platforms. Compatibility is such a non-issue that I often don’t even know which computer my co-authors use. Compatibility concerns may exist between different software rather than different platforms. You may experience glitches transfering documents from Scrivener to Pages or from Google Docs to Word. But these issues are fully solvable and even non-existent for software which has both PC and Mac versions (Papers, Scrivener, etc.). Finally, I hear that there is no IT support for Macs. While this is true, providing IT support is an administrative choice. All in all, Macs don’t need as much support as PCs (according to some evidence perhaps 3–4 times less) because they break down less often. Maybe precisely because of this reason, some IT departments feel threatened and rally against Macs, including by refusing to provide support.
Irrespective of these arguments, my main reason for choosing and enjoying a Mac is not to have a great computer, which is becoming increasingly common, but rather joining a community of people who are keen to make their work fast, effective and enjoyable. But not everyone who gets a Mac is ready or willing to make this step. As Macs become widespread, not everyone with a Mac is interested to make a transition away from PowerPoint, Microsoft Word, hierarchical folders, and other olds habits. There are many people with Macs who are more comfortable with standardized fit-for-all tools from the PC era. Attachment to PowerPoint’s bulleted lists illustrates this better than anything else.
Have you ever received a high-priority reminder “to send your powerpoints (sic!) in advance of the conference”? Recently I had a remarkable interaction following such an email. I wrote back to the organizers to say that I do not use PowerPoint and instead would run my talk from Keynote on a Mac. They angrily responded that my slides are needed in advance to ensure that ‘everything runs smoothly’ (read: there are no gaps between ‘powerpoints’). Eventually I managed to arrange my presentation anyway, but another e-mail caught up with me immediately after the conference. The organizers liked my presentation and requested that I still send them my slides. At this point I must clarify that my slides don’t even contain that many words: they are mostly pictures in various Keynote animations (builds). Technically it’s not difficult to convert such slides to a pdf document or a QuickTime movie. However, I wondered what’s the point of passing those movies or documents to the audience: they don’t make much sense if one does not hear the presentation. I offerred to send my script, which contains more or less the exact text of my talk (once again, the text does not make much sense without the slides but at least one can read it). This was not good enough. I was asked for the ‘proper’ slides ‘to ensure consistency’.
That’s where the problem is. ‘Consistency’ has become a synonym for consistent mediocrity of ‘powerpoints’: the slides covered with text and bullet points. Les Posen, a psychologist and the author of Presentation Magic recently hosted on MPU Episode 111 explained this point very well. He said that the presentations are becoming a de-personalized knowledge transfer tool, supposed to be used without seeing or listening to the presenter. Such presentations can be sent around so that even other people can speak to the same ‘powerpoints’. People become unnecessary. ‘Powerpoints’ become omnipresent and omnipotent. This is where the frontline of the battle is, not whether to choose Mac or PC but whether to respect your topic and your audience so highly as not to leave them to the mercy of powerpoints.