Appellate Advocacy Blog

Editor: Tessa L. Dysart
The University of Arizona
James E. Rogers College of Law

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Gettysburg, Guns, and PowerPoint

On the one hand, they're just tools, used safely and to society's benefit many times each day. On the other hand, their misuse is rampant and they are dangerously ubiquitous. The rhetoric of this debate is sharp and emotion-laden. No I'm not talking about guns, but about presentation programs like PowerPoint. Presentation software can be a powerful tool to inform and even advocate. It can also be used to bore and obfuscate. For some, like Peter Norvig, Director of Research at Google, it leads to a dystopian level of miscommunication:

Imagine a world with almost no pronouns or punctuation. A world where any complex thought must be broken into seven- word chunks, with colorful blobs between them. It sounds like the futuristic dystopia of Kurt Vonnegut's short story Harrison Bergeron, in which intelligent citizens receive ear-splitting broadcasts over headsets so that they cannot gain an unfair advantage over their less intelligent peers. But this world is no fiction--it is the present-day reality of a PowerPoint presentation, a reality that is repeated an estimated 30 million times a day.

Peter Norvig, The Lancet, Volume 362, Issue 9381, Pages 343-344.

As an illustration of this view, Norvig reimagined The Gettysburg Address in PowerPoint format. (Click on the image for the full presentation.)

Gettysburg1Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us--that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion--that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth. ~Abraham Lincoln, November 19, 1863.

Lacking Lincoln's eloqeunce or Norvig's wit, I give you both to commemorate the 150th anniversary of The Gettysburg Address. It seemed to me that a blog about advocacy should mark the date in some fashion.

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