Thursday, February 23, 2012

Mike Daisey on PowerPoint

Mike Daisey is one of my heroes.

He's basically a big guy who tells stories for a living. But what stories. He simply walks out onto a stage that's empty, except for a glass-top table and a single chair, then sits down and talks for about two hours. But he fills up theaters, with a different monologue every couple of years, and critics love him. At least one major critic called his latest production, "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs" - a report on working conditions at the Chinese plants where Apple products are assembled - the best new play of 2011. (It opened here in Washington, but is now playing for the second time in New York, where I just saw it, and will come back to Washington this summer. Don't miss it.)

In the middle of "Jobs" Daisey goes off on a brief tangent that made me want to cheer. It's about a PowerPoint presentation he had to endure. Here's a slightly bowdlerized version. (FYI, Daisy has taken the unprecedented step of publishing the entire text on his website and offering it to anyone who'd like to perform it without any royalty, fee or even credit. He's amazing.)

"PowerPoint is a tool designed by Microsoft, whose motto should be, 'Building Tools That Do Stuff We Can Already Do.' Because the point of PowerPoint is that it enables people who are in the same room to communicate with one another.

"As you can tell from the form of my theatrical presentation, I believe we have a tool that does that already: it’s called the human voice. It’s built-in and it hardly ever crashes.

"But why would we want to talk to one another when instead we can use PowerPoint with all its features - like the clip art? AARRRGH…the clip art makes my eyes bleed! And the fonts! Ohhhhhh, they use all the fonts! Comic Sans? There’s nothing comic about Comic Sans!

"They put up the first slide, and it’s got a big jpeg that’s all pixilated, like someone’s smacking me in the retina with a ball-peen hammer. And then the person running the PowerPoint goes (slowly and deliberately hitting a mouse button) …clllliiiiick. And a single line of text appears, in English, and the text says, 'The plant uses thirty thousand gallons of water every day.'

"There’s a pause. And then the click-er says: 'The plant uses thirty thousand gallons of water every day.'!!! And then nothing happens! Until and unless—I manually nod. I have to literally go,(big, exaggerated nod) “Mmmmmm . . . ” (pause) And only then will they…clllliiiiick, and another line of text appears.

"It’s interminable! It goes on and on—I swear to God there are nights I wake up in the middle of the night, even now, thinking, 'Is it still going on? Am I still at the presentation'?”

I think we've all been there.

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