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EDITORIAL: Who needs PowerPoint to really make a point?
[June 06, 2006]

EDITORIAL: Who needs PowerPoint to really make a point?

(News Tribune, The (Tacoma, WA) (KRT) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) Jun. 6--Oh, no. Look what Federal Way civic activist Frosty Hardison has done: He may have unleashed a horrible virus upon the world of local government in the South Sound.

Yes, the dreaded, often-mind-numbing PowerPoint virus.

The Federal Way City Council may try to nip it in the bud, but it may already be too late for city councils from Gig Harbor to Bonney Lake.

It wouldn't occur to most citizens planning to address their elected officials during public comment time to accompany their remarks with PowerPoint presentations. But Frosty Hardison, an information technology consultant by profession, loves it - and that's a problem.

PowerPoint, for readers who have somehow escaped contact with this marvel and bane of the Information Age, is Microsoft's ubiquitous slide presentation software. In government, business and academia, it is the method of choice for giving briefings on all matter of Really Important Things.

The program makes it easy for anyone with a computer to create all kinds of special visual and sound effects to jazz up what otherwise might be a boring talk. PowerPoint can be used skillfully. But it can also be dangerous in the hands of users who get carried away by all the bells and whistles. There's a name for its potential effect on captive audiences: "PowerPoint-induced coma."

As a matter of fact, a few years ago Gen. Hugh Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was so fed up with overuse of PowerPoint in military briefings and communications that he issued a blunt, worldwide decree ordering uniformed PowerPoint abusers to curb their habit.

Now Frosty Hardison is hardly a threat to national security. But if his penchant for using the city's own computer system to PowerPoint his remarks to Federal Way council members catches on, local government could grind to a halt.

Federal City officials worry that citizen PowerPoints could infect the city computer system with troublesome viruses. And the presentations have to be previewed to make sure nothing objectionable is going to suddenly pop up on the screen.

As a result, the council will consider voting tonight to ban citizens from using city equipment to make PowerPoint presentations during public comment periods. Citizens would still get their customary three-minute allotments to address the council.

Hardison complains that's censorship. We think it's a smart move. It's much worse to put city officials in the position of reviewing citizen PowerPoints to decide whether they pass muster. A few succinct, well-chosen words can make any citizen's point just as effectively.

No other local councils appear to be contemplating similar bans on PowerPoints in public comments. But watch out: the Hardison Virus may already be on the loose.

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