Co-presence and PowerPoint: Presentations as Organizational

Co-presence and PowerPoint: Presentations as Organizational Rites
JoAnn Brooks
University of Michigan
Current popularity of PowerPoint attracts both interest and concern. Less
obviously, it also signals the importance of co-presence in relation to
even simple communication technology. Yet the significance of co-presence
in this regard is often overlooked and not well understood. This talk
offers a description of co-presence as interrelated with projected
PowerPoint images during presentations. The work is grounded in
ethnographic data gathered during a year's participant observation in a
high-tech research and development setting. Analysis indicates that
presentations in this organizational context can be explained in terms of
Durkheim's classic theory on rites -- periodic assemblies of members of a
society, which involve a common focus of attention on visible images.
Furthermore, Durkheim's theory offers powerful insights into co-presence
and its interrelationship with commonly visible images during
presentations. Drawing on Durkheim's work then, I explain co-presence in
presentations as involving synchronized collective action and collective
feeling, from which emerge unified moral affect. At the same time during
presentations, the visible images serve as a common focus of attention,
supporting participants' awareness of their collectivity and affording
them a sense of its persistence. Implications of this perspective for
understanding the importance of presentations in organizational culture
are discussed, suggesting a very practical rationale for PowerPoint's
current popularity.