The Breakup Style of PowerPoint

The scene: The bar at the Bovine Sex Club, during Kickass Karaoke’s 5th Anniversary. I’m ordering a pint of Shanghai Stout from Deanna the bartender when a young woman approaches.

Her: Hey, Accordion Guy, got a minute?

Me: Sure. What’s up?

Her: You’re a computer guy, aren’t you?

Me: Yeah. Got a computer problem?

Her: Sort of. You see, I got dumped last week…

Me: Oh. Sorry to hear that.

Her: …by e-mail. What I wanted to ask was: Is that normal for computer guys?

Me: I don’t think so.

Her: And if that wasn’t enough, he fucking listed everything that was wrong with me. In fucking point form.

Me: That’s strange.

Her: Tell me about it!

Me: Wait. You know, maybe it’s not so unusual. I just remembered — you’re not the first to say this. You’re the third or fourth person this year to tell me that she got dumped by email and had reasons why listed in point form in the past year.

It’s true: since the beginning of the year, a handful of people have told me that they were dumped in this fashion. If you go farther back, you can add two more to that list.

The underlying idea of using email to deliver unpleasant news isn’t all that novel. You’ve probably had to phone someone to cancel plans and were relieved to get their voice mail or answering machine rather than the actual person, and you may have even heard of situations where people have broken up over the phone. Breaking up in writing was common enough for the term “Dear John Letter” to be coined. In these situations, the bearer of bad news is trying to weasel out of having to deal with the reaction.

Listing the reasons for a breakup, whether the breakup is taking place in person, by postal mail, over the phone or email, isn’t new, either. What is new is listing the reasons in point form.

I believe I know the cause of this phenomenon. Allow me to illustrate it:

1. We start dating. 2. ??????? 3. DUMPSVILLE!


Or more accurately, office culture, of which PowerPoint is a cornerstone.

(The slide above is part of a hypothetical PowerPoint presentation that I would’ve made for the New Girl from this story.)

I think that the “Dear Jane” emails that those people received were inspired by elements of office culture: PowerPoint, project post-mortems and annual performance reviews. Of the people who told me that they were dumped via email, all of their boyfriends worked white-collar jobs in which they either sat through or made PowerPoint presentations.

As Information Architecture guru Edward Tufte points out in his book, The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint, PowerPoint presentations sacrifice substance for style, are incredibly information-sparse, use abbreviations and syntactic shortcuts since you can’t fit that much on a slide and are really for the benefit of the speaker, not the audience. PowerPoint faciltitates getting through an unpleasant task as quickly as possible, which is a primary goal in both business presentations and breakups.

You might think I’m being facetious by blaming PowerPoint. However, history and everyday experience show us that our technology affects our culture, from things as simple as levers and the wheel to cell phones, computers and the internet.

Furthermore, the same technology can have a different “spin”, depdending on the manufacturer. Consider the general grittiness of PlayStation and XBox games (and note that both consoles are in imposing black cases) versus the relative kid-friendliness of Nintendo GameCube games (and the console’s cute white cube). Better yet, consider the “digital lifestyle” feel of the Mac and its applications versus Windows and its apps, which Danny O’Brien aptly summarizes with this sharp line in this blog entry:

Ultimately when you use MS software, you’re not the end user MS perceives at all: we’re just living off the scraps Microsoft leaves out after feeding its big customers.

As software evolves and we move on to the next big thing, I figure that social software will provide us with new paradigms for breakups. Perhaps Orkut will lead the way, and one day we’ll get messages like this:


Good grief, part deux

“I’m John Kerry…and I’m reporting for duty!”

“I’m not kidding: I was born in the west wing.”

(I think it’s time for me to catch up with my friends at John’s Italian Cafe.)


Good grief…

I hear the baaa-ing of sheep from Animal Farm, and in real time, too!

They’re going to be completely unbearable when the RNC rolls around.


Secret Asian Man on Asian Guys in Movies

While in Boston, I’m hoping to catch Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle with Wendy. (Let it be known that my friend Dhimant “Bhundi” Patel and I were Harold and Kumar back at Crazy Go Nuts University in the 90’s.)

I thought I’d go look at Tak Toyoshima’s comic, Secret Asian Man, to see if he’d have any commentary on the movie. He didn’t, but he had this somewhat-related comic

Maybe Harold and my main man Jet Li in Hero will help fix that.

(And hey, I’ve done my part for Asian dudes on TV.)


Pahhhking the Cahhh in Hahhhvahhd Yahhd This Weekend

A Simpsons scene at a Boston blogger gathering:

Freddy Quimby: “Say it, Frenchie! Say ‘browsahhh’!”

Waiter: “Brow-zaire!

I can’t properly post about Boston without putting up my favourite Boston Common photo…

It’s wicked fried!

I’ll be visiting The Redhead in Boston this weekend, and when I’m not doing the usual boyfriend-y hoo-hah, I’ll be attending some local bloggers-and-friends gatherings.

Saturday night, I’ll be hanging out at Clery’s, which is stumbling distance from the Back Bay T station. I’ll be attending the Sunday Brunch at Johnny D’s. I’ll hang out at the Berkman Center on Monday morning (Monday’s a holiday in Ontario), Hahhvahhd Square in the afternoon and home in the evening.

If you live in Boston area, feel free to drop by. I will be taking accordion requests.

Accordion, Instrument of the Gods It Happened to Me Music

From the backlog: Kickass Karaoke 5th Anniversary Photos

Another entry in the series of things that have been sitting on my hard
drive, awaiting posting: photos from the 5th Anniversary of Kickass

I know I keep saying this, but I’m busy building a new developer
relations site for Tucows: more stuff later. It’s my new blogging
mantra: “More later. More later. More later.”

In the meantime, you can check out my photos, either in photo album form or as a slideshow.

The obligatory cute chick shot. That’s why you come to the blog, right?


This Land is Your Land [Updated]

[via Guile] Woody Guthrie’s classic folk song, This Land is Your Land, is the basis for JibJab’s funny Flash animation featuring John Kerry and George Bush trading insults:

“You’re a U.N. pussy…”

“Kick ass!”

The Richmond Organization is the publishing company that owns the rights to Guthrie’s classic, and they’re a little peeved at the JibJab animators.
They think the parody, which is getting hits in the millions, is
“damaging” the song. There’s probably not much that they can do, as parody (“an imitation which ridicules another’s work or as any burlesque or
risque occurence that would not happen in an original instance”) is protected speech.

It’s called fair use, and it’s not dead yet.

Addendum: Cory in BoingBoing points out that Woody Guthrie’s standard copyright notice was:

“This song is Copyrighted in U.S., under Seal of Copyright # 154085,
for a period of 28 years, and anybody caught singin it without our
permission, will be mighty good friends of ourn, cause we don’t give a
dern. Publish it. Write it. Sing it. Swing to it. Yodel it. We wrote
it, that’s all we wanted to do.”