Part 1 – In which I want to be the Edward Tufte of Biblical Language

So I just got done with my post about Desmond Tutu’s comments (which are quite old, in fact; he’s been on this tack for years) when I did something I am drawn to do often: I searched out the people who thought he was dead wrong. No surprise here, they were easy to find. Many people were nice enough to think that as an Archbishop, Tutu had meant well, but that these days they didn’t “Know which bible he was reading.” Some called him a serpent. Others quoted scripture saying that in late times there will be many who lead you astray… do not be fooled. What stood out for me was a writing style I have seen many times in my little excursions into “the other side” of debates over religious law and what God thinks of what.

But first: read these little sections from a researcher in Norway about PowerPoint. (I’m trying to plan and help execute a teaching unit about how to use the software in a meaningful way.) Then (and this will be challenging, or wrong, maybe), I want us to think of the lectionary and how people are “taught” the Bible. – The Rhetoric of PowerPoint:

“PowerPoint is therefore not just an alternative method of teaching and giving presentations. For as culture critic Neil Postman (1985) states, any technology is also an ideology. And Microsoft’s presentation software is a technology which fundamentally changes our way of communicating and thereby of thinking – even without our being aware of the change.

• The software makes us think and speak in isolated blocks, instead of in coherent context, totalities, narratives or linear reasoning.

• Each block makes us think and speak in concise, discrete and hierarchizing sections and points.

• The software encourages us to use particular forms of visual material and defined formats and to use ready-made visual material and animations, even if they have no clear relevance to what is being said.

• The software invites ritual conformity of visual style.” – The Rhetoric of PowerPoint:

“In the third place, bullet points omit and suppress important lines of reasoning as to how something works and is interconnected.

When bullets in imperative form baldly command us to increase our share of the market by 25%, profits by 30% and introduce new products; the complex relationship between organization, market and customers remains understated and unexplained. Relationships of this nature are much better described through complete sentences with both subjects and verbs.

Tufte not surprisingly concurs. Instead of merely postulating briefly that we must introduce new products, he writes, we should rather say

who might do it and how, when, and where they might do it. Then several sentences together in a row, a narrative, could spell out the specific methods and processes by which the generic feel-good goals of mission statement might be achieved (Tufte 2003: 6).”

Don’t skip ahead, I’ve got lots to say on this.

Leave a Reply