5th November

Too often though, I think conference presentations are less about the 'exhibition of ideas' and more about the display of academic credentials and distinction. For a properly turned out academic to be taken seriously it seems three things are needed: a research centre logo to brand their PowerPoint presentation, a web address and, increasingly, being smartly dressed in a good costume. Perhaps this version of academic performance is not unrelated to the pressure all of us feel to undergo an impression management drive in anticipation of the next audit of 'research excellence'. However, reliance on PowerPoint, or for that matter any other form of multimedia, means that professional undoing and embarrassment can be just a click of the mouse away.

At the public lecture mentioned earlier I lined up a full array of PowerPoint gimmicks with the assistance of my laptop, including photographs, sound clips, animation and text. At the end of the talk questions followed from the audience, but while I was doing my best to answer them something quite unplanned unfolded behind me. I take the laptop home and my children make use of it for their homework and also their addiction to MSN. Unknown to me Stevie, 12-years-old at the time, had set the screensaver function to a 'My Pictures Slideshow.' As I talked earnestly about the 'war on terror' and the London bombings the automatic slide show treated the audience to a hi-resolution sequence of holiday snaps of my family in various states of beach undress and my kids headbanging with guitars like extras from Jack Black's movie The School of Rock.


Completely unaware, I continued to pronounce on Samuel Huntingdon's 'clash of civilisations thesis' and London's multicultural landscape. No one said a word until a young Dane approached me afterwards. In a strange Scandinavian variant of a mid-Atlantic drawl he said, "Nice slide show and nice guitars. Is that Les Paul Gold Top yours?" Realising that a secret self had inadvertently been revealed, I replied, "Er yes, it is." Doing my best to make small talk through the embarrassment I feared that I had unwittingly become a character in a scene from a yet to be written David Lodge novel. Not very flattering and in the end not very corporate! The lesson is perhaps to be wary of the computer's uncanny potential and always check your screen saver setting.

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8 November