I have most certainly reached the final phase of my academic and professional career and as I look back I want to offer, for what it is worth, some dos and don’ts on different topics to younger scholars in the early phases of theirs. This is the sixth instalment and regards that staple of academic life: PowerPoint.
There is a concept in Jewish law called ‘Fencing’ (Seyag). It is a prophylactic; a new prohibition is decreed, which is not, in and of itself, biblically based but is introduced in the interest of protecting people from inadvertently committing an infraction of a divine commandment or in order to prevent people from entering into a danger zone of temptation. Here is a trivial example: the recitation of one’s nightly prayers can (and should) take place during the night. Night time lasts, surely, until daybreak – just before dawn. One o’clock in the morning is surely still night time. The Rabbis decreed a ‘Fence’ and fixed a deadline of midnight. ‘A man’, they reasoned, ‘will return home, and say to himself: I’ll eat a little bit, and drink a little bit, and sleep a little bit – and then recite my prayers. [After all, I have all night ahead of me]. He ends up sleeping all night and missing his nightly prayers.’
I have imposed on myself a Fence: No PowerPoint at all (for that matter, no FaceBook, Twitter or Instagram). It is an extreme (im)position, which I am not suggesting others should adopt. However, I am advocating a far more prudent and discerning use of PowerPoint.
The technology was originally developed for the American corporate world, driven by an ethos in which time is money – cut it short, get to the point – and in which presentation trumps deliberation, decisiveness trumps doubt, and communication is oftentimes in the command mode. Read the rest of this entry…