Is multimedia evil?

Photo by Helico


Jeff Brenman from Apollo Ideas writes about a debate around the use of multimedia presentations in the courtroom. He quotes Texas lawyer David Bissinger that in Brenman’s opinion makes “a compelling case for multimedia in the courtroom” in this recent article from

A compelling case exists that using multimedia increases juror competence. At least three reasons should prompt trial lawyers to use, and trial judges to embrace, multimedia devices. First, scientific and other high-level learning depends upon visualization; the best advocates, like the best teachers, teach by using visual aids. Second, multimedia argument advances the ancient art of advocacy through storytelling. Third, the forces of technological innovation will put lawyers who fail to embrace these methods out of business

And I ask: What is so compelling about three reasons?

As a former lawyer and someone who has been using presentations for teaching and lecturing for more than a decade now, I am absolutely shocked by the level of the argument that supporters need to stoop to in order to justify what is obvious .

My question is why do we even need an argument, not to say these arguments?

Multimedia (or put more simply, presentation slides) is just a tool. A tool that helps drive a person message across in a more accurate, simpler and persuasive way. But they are not the presentation. The presentation is made by the person. Be it a teacher or a lawyer. And the presenter doing the presentation has many tools at his disposal. For example, his voice or the way he moves his hands. Would you consider not letting a lawyer in court use his voice or his hands? Of course not.  But people are suggesting and asking for justification to use multimedia. Why?

I know what you are thinking to yourself: “but people built these awful PowerPoint presentations. The damage they do with these presentations is horrible. People can’t do that kind of damage with their voice or hands. Multimedia is used for evil. Let’s eradicate evil!”. Ok, maybe I took that a step to far… But Brenman mentions a similar line of argument: “There are some who think presentations force lawyers to dumb down their content for the jury”. All of that is true (well, expect the eradicate evil part). And you know what, unfortunately it doesn’t only happen in the courtroom.

But it is not enough. Two things should be mentioned here. One, is that I have seen some people who use their voice in a monotonous way or present the idea in a boring, non-compelling (and some would say misleading) ways without using PowerPoint. Do we say that because some people are incompetent we should prevent presenting?

Second, the fact that we have a tool that could be used both in a good and bad way does not mean we should ban it because it has bad uses. Some say Google Earth was used to plan and coordinate the bombings in Mumbai a few years ago. Would we ban Google Earth because it could be used for evil? Almost every human invention and tool has the capacity to be used in the wrong ways. And the immediate reaction is to try to stop it. But the key to progress can never be preventing the future from happening. New tools will always emerge. Instead of fearing them and saying that they change the ways things used to be, we need to learn how to embrace them and see how they change the game.

Multimedia, just like a person’s voice is only a tool. But it is one hell of a tool. There are things you can show with it that even the most talented presenter cannot do alone. Like Seth Godin writes in one of his latest blog posts:

A car is not merely a faster horse

And email is not a faster fax. And online project management is not a bigger whiteboard. And Facebook is not an electronic rolodex.

Play a new game, not the older game but faster.

Should we stop using cars because people make horrifying accidents and use them for robberies?

Let’s not blame the tools. Let put the people who use them accountable for their use of the tools.


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