Language is possibly the single most important trait humans posses. We use it in everyday interactions to express feelings, desires, and needs. Technology allows us to pass information, using language, around the world accurately, precisely, and immediately. A hurricane devastating the Philippines is beamed into American homes as it occurs; a car bombing in Lebanon is seen minutes after reporters arrive. The ability to transmit information is taken for granted as sites such as Facebook and Twitter allow family and friends, as well as complete strangers, to communicate instantaneously.
Different modes of communication excel at delivering specific types of communication. Twitter, while immediate, limits users to 140 characters in messages. Cell phones allow users to communicate in words and pictures, but calls involving large numbers of users become unwieldy. Various products attempt to link the ability to communicate using words and pictures, both face to face and over distances. Microsoft’s PowerPoint is perhaps the best known method for the transfer of pictures and written information.
Used by businesses, schools, and government agencies, PowerPoint slides are a common form of communication. Slides are used to present information in a face to face setting, then emailed and provided to those not present. Work teams separated geographically can collaborate by creating slides via email. While convenient, PowerPoint has disadvantages. Poorly created slides inhibit the flow of information, and complex ideas are difficult to reduce into “bullet” statements. PowerPoint slides create large files which are difficult to email over slow internet connections. Despite its disadvantages, the U.S. Army has embraced PowerPoint as a primary method of communication. Replacing formal written papers as a means of transmitting information, PowerPoint is now used to convey increasingly complex ideas, to include war plans. Using the invasion of Iraq in 2003 as a case study, discourse analysis reveals PowerPoint is destroying the Army’s ability to communicate effectively.
Discourse analysis “is the study of the ways sentences and utterances are put together to make texts and interactions and how those texts and interactions fit into our social world” (Jones 2). It is a holistic view of communication. More than just the study of language, discourse analysis also includes how people use language. Based on this way of looking at language, Jones provides four principles in analyzing discourse. His principles are: language is ambiguous, language is always “in the world,” language is inseparable from who we are, and language is never used by itself (88). These principles do not work in isolation; understanding how each principle relates with the others is central in their application. These four principles allow for the analysis of PowerPoint as a form of discourse.
The first principle, language is ambiguous, establishes that what things mean is...