Thursday, April 10, 2008

The PowerPoint at the End of the Universe

Last night I went to see a public lecture by Stephen Hawking at the California Institute of Technology and thought about how his use of the presentation software PowerPoint could also be thought about in terms of disability politics. (Check out the design of Hawking's webpage and its sensitivity to those with visual or auditory handicaps.) Often derided by information designers, such as Edward Tufte and Mark Bernstein, PowerPoint could be seen as having certain virtues, if the speaker can not literally speak. Using a muscle in his cheek, the now very seriously disabled Hawking managed to hold the attention of the overflow crowd, despite the bullet points and cartoony graphics. He also chose five questions from Cal Tech students -- including queries about possible space colonies and popular fears that the CERN supercollider in Switzerland could tear apart the universe -- to answer with pre-programmed responses during the Q&A.

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