David Byrne, Dwinelle Hall, Berkeley, Mon Mar 7, 2005

Small picture of David Byrne behind a lectern, looking to the left.  Half his face is in shadow.Small picture of David Byrne behind a lectern. He's looking up at the PowerPoint presentation behind him.Small picture of David Byrne behind a lectern.  Looking down.Small picture of David Byrne behind a lectern, laughing to himself.

David Byrne cracking himself up.
(Pictures captured off the webcast.)

I {heart} PowerPoint was presented with Byrne's usual wide-eyed earnestness, in a voice that admits that maybe the words might mean something, letting the audience decide what's funny and what's serious.

The audience made some strange decisions.

One of the slides had Whit Diffie in it.
Hi, Whit!

By way of introducing Tufte's fascination with resolution and data-density, Byrne briefly showed the Minard graph Tufte frequently uses. The audience didn't think it was so easy to understand.

Large parts of the talk were unspecific to Byrne's work and just gave a general history of PowerPoint and the prevailing deliberate and non-deliberate jokes, collected off the Internet. The history was interesting, but I don't like it when people who have something to say think they have to entertain as collectors.

But his treatment of Tufte's widely publicised criticism wasn't just an echo. Byrne points out that PowerPoint is not a very verbal medium; that there's communication going on that's easy to miss; that the superficiality is a chance, not just an obstacle.

David Byrne's own words come haltingly, as if from great distance. Sometimes he can't remember the right word and uses another one instead (like using "Aphorism" for "Acronym".) There were no notes.

The core thesis:
Powerpoint presentations are a form of theater, the Brechtian / Japanese kind where a speaker off-screen lends a voice to actors that do not pretend to be anything but actors.

People are not seeing that yet, but maybe they will, in a thousand years or so.