When you give a presentation using our own laptop computer, in some cases you can set up in advance and have your zippy title slide on the screen as the audience wanders in and gets settled and stares randomly at whatever you put in front of them. In other cases, however, you have to set up while everyone stares at you and whatever shows up on the screen as you get started. This is common when you set up to teach a class and can't get into the lecture room until just before the class starts.
Unless you have the presentation open and ready to go as soon as the computer connects to the projector (beamer), the audience is likely to have a few moments to gaze at your desktop and any files that may be on it.
This gives everyone a chance to admire your desktop and to determine if you're the kind of person who has 573 files scattered randomly about your desktop.
It also gives the audience a chance to look at your folder and filenames. The audience might consist of students in a class, people in a department that invited you to give a talk, colleagues and members of your research group, your department chair, and so on. You may or may not want some of these people to see your desktop.
For example, it would probably be a bad idea to have certain folders and files stored on the desktop, e.g. (for me) FSP blog drafts; Bob's ref letters-positive; Bob's ref letters-negative; Hate Letters to Dog Owners; petition_to_fire_the_Dean.doc; bomb-plans.doc; or a file that shows you are doing an (anonymous) review of a manuscript or proposal authored by someone in your audience.
A few years ago while waiting for a student to fire up his laptop to give a talk before his oral preliminary exam, we (the committee) members gazed idly at his desktop when it was projected on the screen. He had a boring background and a few scattered files. Before he was able to click on oral-prelim-talk.ppt, I saw a file titled WhyWomenLive.
I was curious about this, but did not think it appropriate to ask as a question at an oral preliminary exam. After the exam, however, once the student had passed in an emphatic and non-traumatic way and we were chatting as he put his laptop away, I asked him about this file.
He seemed a bit horrified that I might think he had a sexist or otherwise offensive file on his desktop, and he hastened to tell me that the full title was Why Women Live Longer Than Men, and that it was very funny. So we looked at it, and it is in fact very entertaining (you can search on the phrase and find images and videos if you haven't seen these and are curious). In my research group, we still refer to this episode from time to time and laugh about it.
Back in 2006 in an FSP poll, I asked readers what was on their desktop. My hypothesis was that women would be less likely than men to have photos of their kids as their background, but the results came out about the same for men and women (6%) . Most people seem to have a nature scene background, but there were no obvious trends.
I did not ask about desktop files/folders: i.e., whether people take care to keep certain ones off their desktop and whether anyone has had an embarrassing experience with projected desktops. I don't think a poll would be as interesting as hearing stories about such incidents and about Desktop Philosophies.
6 months ago