Why technology goes wrong: no presentational dissonance in sight (at first)

A few years ago I coined the term “presentational dissonance”. Derived, clearly, from the psychological concept of cognitive dissonance, the term is used to describe a situation in which the nature of a presentation, and its content, are at odds with each other.

For example:

  • The conference on assessment for learning techniques in which delegates were lectured at for most of the day.
  • The 90 minute lecture I attended on the importance of audience participation.
  • The how-to book on self-publishing – produced by a commercial publisher.

Last night Tony Sheppard gave a brilliant talk on the subject of why technology goes wrong. Hilariously, several things went wrong at the start: I forgot to start the recording of the session, so had to deliver my inspired (and no doubt inspirational) introduction for a second time. Then I had to jabber on in the hope that Tony’s Java update, which had started just as he was about to upload his presentation and which prevented his doing anything at all in the room, would be completed quickly. I tried to tell the assembled participants that all of this was a deliberate ploy, designed to cleverly illustrate the theme of the talk, but I doubt anyone believed me.

This was a case in which presentational dissonance might have been welcome. But, of course, such glitches are quite normal, and possibly even welcome: they give permission, in a sense, to technology newbies to have things go awry.

Once the talk got underway after a few minutes, it was very good indeed. Tony dealt not only with the technology itself, but the environment, circumstances, expectations and much else. Along with the ensuing discussion it was a very useful talk, which included a handy distinction between a nerd and a geek (the latter has social skills!).