Metatalktail Hour: Background Noise August 29, 2020 12:15 PM   Subscribe

Inspired by a link from ALeaflikeStructure, we pose the question, "What's on your actual or idealized-imaginary zoom backdrop?" Do you have a credibility bookcase or similar? Are you composing a subtle (or unsubtle?!) message with your background, or just winging it? Do you have favorites or notables that you've seen from others?

Or just tell us what's been up with you, what you've found interesting recently, what you had for lunch — it's all good!
posted by taz (staff) to MetaFilter-Related at 12:15 PM (80 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

it would be great if, for fun, speech-to-text was good enough to give me speech bubbles. Real time transcription is good, but not "fun". Speech bubbles with "$#&!" for the naughty bits would also be awesome. Also, i'd like to be able to move my finger around and "write in the air". I would probably give up Powerpoint completely if I could do that :)

All of this thinking just comes from the fact that I haven't been in the office since March, and really don't see any need to do so for the foreseeable future. I did go one day, but that was because we were inaugurating the new cafeteria and cafe space so there was a special breakfast, lunch and ice cream! That was fun, but also enough office time for now.
posted by alchemist at 1:11 PM on August 29 [3 favorites]


I'm currently on a sort-of adventure in my homeland of The Hwicce (modern: Worcestershire) and, soon, the West Country. This is a replacement for the adventure I was trying to make/take in Norway/Sweden this summer, which didn't happen despite much planning and precautions because I never felt comfortable enough. And I had a growing list of things to do in all points west, as well as a few people I wanted to see, so the option gradually shifted from Scandinavia to here.

I'm currently in (looks out of window) Evesham, which is 3.5 miles from where I spent the first twenty years of my life. Previously on this trip I've been to the Malvern Hills which were windy (as it always is), and in Worcester (which was great as the headmaster of my old school there showed me around for quite a while, and I met someone from my year who I liked and we had a fantastic catch-up chat).

The grdually growing Flickr picture album for this trip is here.

To anwer the topic question: I'm currently playing around with a few of those pictures as new backdrops for video chats, because this is a working holiday and I do still have to sometimes check-in with various actual and potential workie-type people. Currently I have the backdrop of my favourite picnic spot in the city of Worcester, where this time round I ate a splendid chip supper. But I might change it to one of a plum tree in the orchard that I sat in this afternoon.

The shortened county championship cricket season has been unexpectedly good, with the revised format. Can't attend the matches, and can only follow them live, but it's been a good backdrop to this late summer/early autumn adventure. But I'm hoping to get some good walks done in the West Country. New boots will be bought; maps consulted; waterproofs enabled; lard-based products made and packed in backpacks. Onwards!
posted by Wordshore at 1:14 PM on August 29 [9 favorites]


I gave up on being visible in online meetings very early on; I am audio only so that I can roll my eyes as needed (it frequently is).

I ventured outdoors yesterday on one of those rail trails they build next to the sadly disused tracks. Walked to the next town down the river and back, first time I've done that since . . . . late last fall I guess. It was mostly very nice, but there were more people than I'd anticipated, including a couple of families that let the kids run everywhere, which these days is really more suited to an open park than a narrowish trail. A little unnerving, but it was good to be out in the sun and really good to take a long walk.

For lunch I had leftover pizza made with pesto, mushrooms, tomatoes, and cheese.
posted by JanetLand at 1:39 PM on August 29 [3 favorites]


We have a generic solid colour wall because the teachers are killjoys* and won't let the kids have "distracting" backgrounds.

And, yes, I understand why but it kinda sucks a little bit of fun out of virtual learning which needs all the help it can get.

* Not really.
posted by madajb at 1:56 PM on August 29


I bought something called FaceRig a couple of years ago when it was on Humble Bundle - it's a thing that tracks the motion of your face and replaces you with something else (Dracula, various animals, a burger). Apparently you can use it with Zoom etc. I'm planning to use it just as soon as someone invites me to a meeting... I've had not one invitation since I discovered this.
posted by pipeski at 2:22 PM on August 29 [3 favorites]


I avoid the video-meet thing as much as possible because I'm always distracted by the horror of seeing myself ... and I can't figure out if I would have felt the same when I was younger and considered myself quite presentable, or if I would have had the same reaction back then. At any rate, my bed is in my background (because my "office" is in my bedroom), which probably tells you as much as you need to know about me ... and not in a sexy way! Also, my credibility bookshelves (were I to employ them) would point to a distinct lack of credibility from sometime in the early-2000s onward, since it's all been Kindle for me since the very first Kindle edition. Reason: small apartments, limited number of books in English here, having moved a ridiculous number of times in my life and shed tons of books each time, yet still had to schlep boxes and boxes and boxes of them to each new domicile.

In my imaginary world, I have a lovely old rambling house and a serious library with all the actual paper books and comfy cozy reading chairs and a fireplace. In my zoom you can see the inclement weather outside (rain or snow, take your pick, I'm happy with either), the golden glow from old fashioned lamps inside, a soft intricately patterned carpet on the floor (how are you seeing the floor? I don't know! I guess that's why they call it ZOOM!), the fireplace cheerfully flickering, me looking completely comfortable and un-self-conscious (also much younger!) with a cup of tea, a tasteful lap blanket, and a book of clearly some significant yet non-intimidating heft, and I've just looked up to say, oh, hai! You've just caught me reading a book! Again! ha ha! If only you were here, I'd certainly pour you a cup of this beautiful Earl Grey, but as it is, oh well. Now what were we supposed to talk about?
posted by taz (staff) at 2:34 PM on August 29 [12 favorites]


The reality of my Zoom background is usually a half-painted wall and one or more miscellaneous cats. Sometimes the cats also enter the foreground; the wall has yet to.
posted by biogeo at 2:59 PM on August 29 [6 favorites]


I just left a job where I was there in person 99% of the time as an essential medical sort, but did participate in Zoom meetings with my department from time to time. During the last few months I had to barricade myself in offices due to violent behavior from clients on two separate occasions, if that gives you any indication of how functional things were.

Anyway, my Zoom background for the last few department meetings was the waiting room from The Good Place, and my only major disappointment on leaving is that nobody ever got the reference and messaged me on a side chat to agree that work was, in fact, the Bad Place.
posted by ActionPopulated at 3:19 PM on August 29 [12 favorites]


I don’t have the skill or patience to create an imaginary Zoom backdrop, but I angle the camera to take in a corner of my room with a large, nicely framed print of van Gogh’s Café Terrace at Night, the black bench that sits beneath it, and a vase of white dogwood stems to the side. It probably looks pretentious (because it is!) but I’m proud of my real-life backdrop.
posted by kbar1 at 3:22 PM on August 29 [1 favorite]


On the wall behind my computer desk hang two clear plastic shoe-organizers, the kind with pockets that are supposed to hang over a closet door. They hold miscellaneous art supplies that I like to keep within easy reach. The plastic is shiny, they run the length of the wall behind me when I am on camera, and apparently it is hard to tell exactly what you're seeing. Yesterday a coworker asked me if I was sitting in front of a shower curtain. So now I'm thinking that it is entirely possible that any number of people I've had a cameras-on meeting with, may think I am coming to them live from the toilet.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 3:37 PM on August 29 [14 favorites]


No one in my company seems to use backgrounds and I don't want to be the only one. Also only about half the people turn on video. I worked for my current project manager for a couple of months before I knew what he looked like. Of the people who do turn on their cameras, it's an assortment of spare rooms, basements and converted dining rooms. My one co-worker is in the laundry room with 70s wood paneling next to him and an electrical circuit breaker box behind him.
posted by octothorpe at 3:51 PM on August 29 [3 favorites]


My husband has been making himself real popular with his colleagues* by zooming into low-stakes meetings (coffee hour type things, but still mandatory) from his kayak in the middle of a lake.

*they hate him
posted by obfuscation at 3:54 PM on August 29 [12 favorites]


My current Zoom background is a picture of one of my absolute favorite local pubs (which is sadly still closed, but I hope it'll open back up some day). I put it up a few months ago in a fit of nostalgia during the depths of early lockdown when none of us could really go anywhere, even with masks and hand sanitizer.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 3:56 PM on August 29 [3 favorites]


For Zoom backdrops, I have a rotating series of landscapes, seascapes, and skylines of places where I’d much rather be. (I have a self-imposed rule that I can only include places where I’ve actually spent time, as an adult. Helps narrow things down.)

The puke-green paint on my bedroom wall has finally earned its keep by effectively masquerading as Boston, or Cape Breton Island, or Toronto, or...
posted by armeowda at 4:17 PM on August 29 [5 favorites]


One of my coworkers took a little video of himself sitting in his office staring at the camera, blinking and occasionally nodding as though he were listening to someone. He's made that his Zoom background so that if he stands up and walks away from the camera during meetings, it looks like he's still there. It's pretty funny, but it's also easy to tell which one is the "real" him, because the fake one is much more expressive.
posted by biogeo at 5:11 PM on August 29 [22 favorites]


During the pandemic we’ve been assembling packets of tampons, pads, and liners for those who need them. They’re distributed each week as part of a no-questions-asked pickup area for food, toiletries, and other essentials. Many rooms in our house have big stacks of boxes of menstrual products. That’s my Zoom background for coworkers - big ol’ piles of Tampax and Nileeva boxes. Clients get one of the few remaining blank walls as their background.
posted by cheapskatebay at 5:53 PM on August 29 [13 favorites]


I started using this one a while ago, but decided I wanted to feel more judged, so I switched to this one.
posted by Gorgik at 5:55 PM on August 29 [6 favorites]


My computer is located in the far corner of my library, so I have a bookcase as my not-at-all distant background, plus a window off in the distance. And occasional cats.
posted by thomas j wise at 6:01 PM on August 29


I hate fake backgrounds. I want to see people in their environment, cats and all. I’m not the type that Zooms in my pajamas with a weeks beard growth. The whole social isolation thing is too depressing already, I’ll shower, shave, put on something presentable before meetings. Somehow it gives me a sense of normalcy. I’m lucky enough to have my own room for a professional looking office, tasteful bookcase and framed certificates and photos. I’m all ready for CNN to interview me about my expert opinion on some bullshit. Give me a call, Anderson.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 6:12 PM on August 29 [6 favorites]


I have a coworker who, like me, prefers audio-only. The last time we were forced to use video for a staff meeting she had a background from The Office. It was a delightfully (well-deserved) swipe at our office culture that nobody else seemed to catch.

And speaking of delightfully well-deserved swipes: ActionPopulated, I may have to steal your background.
posted by Fish, fish, are you doing your duty? at 6:59 PM on August 29 [3 favorites]


At this point I have one laptop (the old and sorta dying one) that doesn't do backgrounds and the new laptop I bought for online performing/when this one keels over that does. Mostly I've just used various theater backdrops on that one, or anything island-y or space-y.

However, I really don't give a shit if people see my kitchen, which is the non-background I use on the old computer. Bookcases are out of range of the computers, so I don't care there. The kitchen is decorated in old calendars I dismembered and posted pics of, so it's a lot of Hawaiian flowers and smartass sayings and tie-dye-ish inspirational messages like "Be Wacky."
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:46 PM on August 29 [2 favorites]


I don’t have the skill or patience to create an imaginary Zoom backdrop

Oh thank God someone else admitted this first. (Although I am loving the descriptions of the passive aggressive work meeting backgrounds.)

I like to sit on my loveseat or rocker and feature an inexpensive Renoir poster or some nautical tchotchkes hanging on my wall. But then you've got that awful shot-from-below angle on you.

So I'll prop the laptop precariously up higher. Sometimes, frustrated by the lighting, I've even tried to turn miscellaneous lamps into key and fill lights.

I've watched many entertainment-related zooms, performers at their own homes. If you never before appreciated the craftspeople that make performers look good, I bet you do now.

When this is all over, I want to hug and kiss every lighting and scenic designer, sound person and cinematographer. Cuz some of the best performers in the world don't know shit about how to light themselves and set up a camera. (And some of the richest stars seem to have the same low Wi-Fi speed I do.) /Derail

I've mostly used zoom (& other programs) for fun stuff, writers & community theater meetings, virtual city tours. I often go no-camera unless I'm talking. I'll bet a whole etiquette is developing around topics like whether to keep your camera on or not in different situations.

(And yes, Kitty sometimes makes a cameo in my meetings.)
posted by NorthernLite at 9:08 PM on August 29 [6 favorites]


I hate the virtual backdrops because they halo people and get all blobby when people move too much. Stopped using them.

I have to be on screen for some meetings, so set up my desk for good light, elevated my laptop, and put my little glassfronted bookcase where all my ancient Penguin paperbacks live behind me. You can't really read the titles though. I also hung up some mirrors I liked and a colorful fabric piece I have. They look nice but now I wonder if it's too boho a vibe for me.

I like the idea of changing it up periodically so I may rearrange it again.

My company has asked us to use official company virtual backdrops during external client calls. They are boring.
posted by emjaybee at 9:27 PM on August 29 [1 favorite]


I have my desk sitting in the corner of my living room, so people get to see part of my piano, my sad plant collection, and my couch, on which perches... Fat Pony, always lurking in the background.

Our work videoconferencing client (not Zoom) only allows a handful of preset backgrounds, and a bunch of us have taken to using the identical, hideously fake “tropical beach” background and joking about running into each other at the bar between meetings.

My boss, who is apparently camped out in her childhood home while her own house is being renovated, occasionally has a large plush Pikachu somewhere behind her. She probably moves it before her executive updates, but I really, really hope she doesn’t.
posted by btfreek at 9:38 PM on August 29 [9 favorites]


Zoom backgrounds haven’t been my style for a little bit, but I went crazy with ‘em when they were first having their moment. They are a perfect medium for chaos. Some notes:
  • Stock footage is great. Pixabay and Pexels have a lot of gold, and I rec. digging through with keywords like “syntethic”, “virtual”, “abstract”.
  • The best thing I probably found were Alex Scales’s marching green cubes at gotyourback.space. Slow tempo, irregular sizes, and movement across the entirety of the frame so that there’s always something going on just where your body isn’t. 100% recommend using at least once.
posted by Going To Maine at 10:18 PM on August 29 [9 favorites]


I just like pretty impressionist paintings of pretty places /basic
posted by Cozybee at 10:55 PM on August 29 [1 favorite]


I have enough plants that there is always one visible in my backgrounds.

I went to stay with my parents for two weeks, and travelled just outside the mandatory quarantine both ways, I had been tested for Covid and antibodies before going so felt comfortable I wasn’t bringing it home. I basically quarantined there anyway but it was so nice to see them and be home, they've been doing lots of redecorating and improvements to the house so a lot had changed in the 7 months since I was last home!
posted by ellieBOA at 11:06 PM on August 29 [1 favorite]


Those are great, Going to Maine, thanks for the link.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 2:24 AM on August 30 [1 favorite]


Over the past few months I took a bunch of pictures of people both with masks on and masks off and then photoshopped them together so left side masked and right side unmasked. I have a few of these behind my desk on the wall (just printed from the office printer, I intended to do more with the project, but).

Not background related, but I agree with taz that looking at myself on zoom constantly (I spend hours a day there ugh) is disheartening. I found that if the room is well lit I look much better, and for some reason if it is at all dark or shadowed I look like I am steps from the grave. Oh and also I often amuse myself by seeing how long I can keep perfectly still (like I said, I spend hours a day on Zoom), or by making weird faces, moving my face in and out, pretending to melt into my chair, etc. No one ever notices.
posted by Literaryhero at 4:09 AM on August 30 [4 favorites]


> Speech bubbles with "$#&!" for the naughty bits would also be awesome.

Maybe real world foamcore wordbubbles on sticks would work, or rig them so you pull a cord and they drop into place from the ceiling.
posted by sebastienbailard at 4:57 AM on August 30 [4 favorites]


I've got the best airport welcome sign ever on the bookshelf across from my computer. Several years back, I went back to the States for a short trip (driver's license renewal issues and paperwork that needed doing) without Mrs. Ghidorah. It was a good, if short trip, but I missed her a bunch the whole time. After the long flight back, I knew she'd be picking me up at Narita airport. I'd mentioned on various trips to her that I'd always wanted to arrive at an airport and have someone holding one of those little signs with my name on it, ready to whisk me away to wherever. Just something simple, "Mr. Ghidorah" held by a person in a suit. So, I come out of customs, and there she is, with a little cardboard sign held above her head with "I'M HERE" and several large arrows pointing down towards her.

When we were doing the cleaning and decluttering that seems to be part and parcel of the whole stay at home thing, she was going to throw it away, and I rescued it, giving it a place of honor directly across from my webcam, and more than a couple people have asked me about it.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:34 AM on August 30 [16 favorites]


I also don’t like the bad visual effects of the fake backgrounds, so I just try to sit somewhere inoffensive. Sometimes it’s at my tiny desk in the dining room, sometimes it’s in an armchair, sometimes it’s the futon in the sunroom. No place in my house makes me look all that fancy or smart and that’s just how it is because my life is pretty middling on those measures. A coworker who just got promoted to faculty always manages to have one of { preschooler, bedroom, drum kit } and that’s nice because I don’t feel required to impress.

The trickiest ones to find a setting for are parent teacher conferences — we have to be somewhere inoffensive where we can’t be easily overheard by Little e. We have settled for sitting on the cedar chest in front of a window in our walk in closet, but it’s really not ideal.
posted by eirias at 6:52 AM on August 30 [1 favorite]


We have settled for sitting on the cedar chest in front of a window in our walk in closet, but it’s really not ideal.

My partner and I have taken to getting in the car for our weekly couples therapy session (two of our kids still live aa home). A couple of weeks ago we went through the Dunkin' Donuts drive-thru while in therapy, which is not something on could have said a year ago.

My laptop is 7 or 8 years old, and struggles to pick up a decently-lit picture even if my partner and I do everything we can to arrange lights, etc. I work from bed/in bed quite a bit because of a disability but also because we live in a small house. My partner took over the dining nook for his home office, and I got one of these spiffy tables for the bedroom.

I can't do zoom backgrounds, so usually people can see me and the wall of my bedroom, but my greyhound mix Daisy likes to suddenly pop up over my shoulder from where she's napping on the bed, and I often have a cat. I swear the cats know when I'm going into a meeting and they like it because they know I'm not going to move for an hour.
posted by Orlop at 7:39 AM on August 30 [5 favorites]


Right now I have bookshelves. That's because I'm an academic and also because I'm a bibliophile.

We're still settling in from a major move, so are building/getting more bookshelves to support the thousands of tomes now uneasily resting in boxes. So hopefully I can cram more into the video frame.
posted by doctornemo at 9:40 AM on August 30 [1 favorite]


At my department's pre-summer zoom work-meeting in June they had a contest for the best zoom background. So I poked around in my photos and chose a colorful and elaborate dinner table with lots of sauces and stuff. Of course, this is Sweden and people were all like what, are you actually lying on a dinner table, and finally our Prefect won because she used the entrance hall of our Uni building as her background and everyone decided they had to feel nostalgic (after months of online teaching) and also a prefect always needs a bit of a boost, right.
So now I meet my students with my own boring wall behind me, it's fine.

nobody understand my kind of humor
posted by Namlit at 9:47 AM on August 30 [3 favorites]


At our start-of-term meeting, one colleague was trying the zoom-from-a-boat shtick, but there were waves, and at one point he spectacularly vanished out of the picture (microphone muted, which was a bit of a shame). It took a few terse minutes, everyone waiting, until he in fact re-emerged, somewhat flushed, but dry and all in one piece.
posted by Namlit at 9:53 AM on August 30 [4 favorites]


Cuz some of the best performers in the world don't know shit about how to light themselves and set up a camera.

To be fair, it's not like anyone had any warning that they had to set up a professional lighting studio in their home alone. I pretty much have one portable light in the house that can be moved and shoved as brightly into my face as possible and that's it.

looking at myself on zoom constantly (I spend hours a day there ugh) is disheartening.

Hear, hear. Someone on MeFi pointed out that you can "Hide Self View" but I'm kind of afraid to use it in case I somehow get myself in trouble for doing a bad face move and not realizing it. But it sucks to have to look at yourself while you have a conversation. That's not how real life worked.

I often go no-camera unless I'm talking. I'll bet a whole etiquette is developing around topics like whether to keep your camera on or not in different situations.

As far as I can tell everywhere you go it's "Please turn on your camera! We need to see your smiling beautiful faces!"
Since my face is neither smiling nor beautiful these days*, fuck you, no, I'm not turning it on most of the time unless it's trusted friends, acting online, or I'm doing an activity that actually requires the camera. I am so sick of being asked to turn it on and smile just to watch someone's show that I am not performing in. Why do I have to perform when I was trying to be in the audience? Nobody forced me to smile while in the theater in the dark for 2 hours in the beforetimes. And didn't we decide before the pandemic that demanding smiles on command was an asshole bad thing?

* a friend of mine keeps saying, "You don't look good. You don't look good" to me. I'M ALREADY AWARE OF THAT, I'M NOT GOOD AND YOU KNOW IT, AND YOUR REPEATEDLY SAYING IT IS NOT HELPFUL AND NOTHING CAN BE DONE ANYWAY.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:09 AM on August 30 [6 favorites]


I was really excited when I updated my zoom software and got access to backgrounds. I spent half an hour panning through Star Trek TNG and Red Dwarf scenes to find backgrounds without people in them. Then, I discovered that it looks like crap if you have differently colored walls and artwork. The image that's half my living room and half the Enterprise D warp core workstations is kind of neat. But, not entirely professional. I start teaching - remotely, since we don't actually have large enough classrooms on campus for even 25% capacity for undergrad classes - in a month. I'm debating buying a roll-up green screen. Or, filming lectures in the park. On the other hand, I also enjoy getting to know my colleagues' cats.

Last week I realized my background included two obscure musical instruments, a unicycle, and six hundred feet of colored plastic strips intended for an art project I'm not sure I'm ever going to complete. I'm not particularly ashamed of any of them. But, it's kind of a weird thing to share with several people who have "dean" in their title. (The only one who matters in the short term is very cool and unlikely to object.)

My spouse lives 2000 miles away, so I've got the full run of the apartment. Unlike all of my colleagues, I'm not in a bedroom or a closet. But, it also means I have to think a bit about what random shit I leave out in view. I'm okay with the pile of unopened mail.
posted by eotvos at 11:57 AM on August 30 [1 favorite]


Since I'm the teacher, I have to turn mine on, but my background's just a blank white wall. The virtual background I want is just stars flowing into the vanishing point a la Star Trek but I guess my computer isn't powerful enough: Zoom only lets me set it to "Picture files," no videos.

To be fair, it's not like anyone had any warning that they had to set up a professional lighting studio in their home alone.

Yeah but ever since Apollo 12 we've known that you don't point your color video camera at the sun -- for best results, set up your camera so the light source is behind it, illuminating the subject.
posted by Rash at 12:00 PM on August 30 [2 favorites]


Also, it doesn't affect me. . . but, zoom is really bad at drawing borders around hair. Someone should really work on that.

Also, also, I think I may have broken my tailbone. At the very least, I managed to make sitting down very painful on Friday. So, every camera shot lately is straight up the nose. It's not a great look. I'm debating building a standing desk. There's a lot of scrap wood in the alley at the moment.
posted by eotvos at 12:00 PM on August 30 [1 favorite]


My favorite is a co-worker who had set up their web camera off to one side of their computer, so instead of the normal face-on view you were looking at their profile while they stared at their computer screen, with the additional treat of glimpses of their bathroom across the hall.
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:08 PM on August 30 [5 favorites]


Also, it doesn't affect me. . . but, zoom is really bad at drawing borders around hair. Someone should really work on that.

Yeah I've got kinda frazzley hair on even the best days and the backgrounds look kinda weird and give me like a blur hair helmet. So what i do with Zooms usually is take them from my desk chair which has a flattering angle and a kinda of cluttery bookshelf behind it which is mostly good, though occasionally you can see towels drying in my kitchen. My lighting situation could be better but... it's not going to be! Fave part of all of it is the large googley eyes on the shelf behind me.

I do have a few stock backgrounds that I CAN use including a Dunkin Donuts one that I edited (has a little thought bubble which used to have a coffee in it or something and now contains my avatar which shows when I turn off my camera (here Jim helpfully demonstrates). I've also got one that says BRB so it's clear when I am away, and a few other random ones including Studio Ghibli ones and some from the Smithsonian.

set up your camera so the light source is behind it, illuminating the subject.

My problem here is that my camera is my computer which is a big bright light source in addition to the more subtle lights that I have, so it's tough not to look super washed out.

The other day I tried putting on a fancy shirt for some Zoom I had (I have a lot of meetings but I don't have like people-who-pay-me work Zooms too often) and I did feel kinda nice in what i would usually consider ridiculous-dress-up in this really nice shirt and earrings with my hair up and then sweatpants on.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 12:39 PM on August 30 [3 favorites]


I'm required to have my camera on, so the bare white wall behind me is a form of protest. You don't get to see where my bookmark is in The Power Broker.
posted by betweenthebars at 1:03 PM on August 30 [4 favorites]


Thanks for the credit, Taz. Inspiring something is cool. What's up with me is age; tomorrow (8/31) is my 71st birthday.
posted by ALeaflikeStructure at 1:20 PM on August 30 [10 favorites]


O, Denny’s made some Zoom backgrounds. They are delightfully mad.
posted by Going To Maine at 1:25 PM on August 30 [3 favorites]


My setup is not terribly conducive to greenscreening, it looks weird and eats a lot of bandwidth, but my home office is heavily used for many purposes and there's a lot of clutter around the margins. And there's a bed in the background (for the dog to look out the window, which itself is often a source of glare), and it too collects clutter PLUS in summer the dog tends to lay on the floor most of the time so I can't even distract people with snoozlin' dog.

So one of my tasks this weekend is to rig a line at a clutter-hiding point in the room, and I've ordered a number of shower curtains, including a spoopy Halloween one, to use as backdrops.

I do occasionally, when weather and requirements allow, take a laptop outside to have a backdrop of my orange tree or some other part of my garden, but I don't really have time or inclination anymore and it's too hot/mosquito-y this summer.

I would love to have a big gardeny window behind me, with the kind of adorable and productive garden I never really manage to accomplish.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:55 PM on August 30


My Zoom background is a a giant window, because I am absolutely not rearranging my entire living room just for the purposes of teaching from home. This is the only reasonable place for my desk, so I've set up other lighting to offset the backlighting from the window. It's not so bad. I find virtual backgrounds really distracting as bits of people pop in and out of visibility depending on how they move, so I'll just be sticking with my giant window instead of trying to green screen my office in.
posted by pemberkins at 2:41 PM on August 30


I have my desk sitting in the corner of my living room, so people get to see part of my piano, my sad plant collection, and my couch, on which perches... Fat Pony, always lurking in the background.

My background also contains a Fat Pony, as well as some sad plants, which is particularly embarrasing given that the thing I am remotely teaching is botany.
posted by pemberkins at 3:08 PM on August 30 [8 favorites]


looking at myself on zoom constantly (I spend hours a day there ugh) is disheartening.

Early on in the pandemic, I found seeing myself interesting, and kind of heartening. "I look nice," I told my friends. "Like, I have a nice face and I look like a nice person."

It's changed, though, either because some things about my face have actually changed or because my perception of myself has, or likely both, and right now I am finding it really excruciating. In real life I'm not a very self-conscious person, and Zoom has turned me into one. I'm trying to recapture that feeling of not thinking about how I look and just enjoying connecting with people, but I admit it's getting harder.
posted by Orlop at 4:15 PM on August 30 [4 favorites]


Last week I realized my background included two obscure musical instruments, a unicycle, and six hundred feet of colored plastic strips intended for an art project

A background that includes obscure musical instruments and a unicycle is fabulous!

To be fair, it's not like anyone had any warning that they had to set up a professional lighting studio in their home alone.

In the Early Days,Julia Louis-Dreyfus did a stay-at- home PSA minus her glam team.
posted by NorthernLite at 4:50 PM on August 30


right now I am finding [seeing myself in a webconference] really excruciating

I find it equally distracting, but in an opposite way - I watch myself get more extravagantly performative, like it's my own little comedy show and I need to exaggerate every facial emotion.
posted by Greg_Ace at 5:11 PM on August 30 [4 favorites]


My friend made me a zoom background that is just endless spines of The Power Broker. I haven't used it yet but am tempted so that people will find me politically sophisticated!
posted by ferret branca at 5:14 PM on August 30 [2 favorites]

My favorite is a co-worker who had set up their web camera off to one side of their computer, so instead of the normal face-on view you were looking at their profile while they stared at their computer screen, with the additional treat of glimpses of their bathroom across the hall.
I'm often looking away from the camera on my laptop, because I'm looking at my external monitor. But the thing is, I'm pretty sure the solution to this involves getting a webcam, and my office is not going to pay for that. And I'm getting a little sick of spending my own money on home office equipment that I only use for work. If they don't want to see my profile, they can buy me an external webcam.

I have a couple of Zoom virtual backgrounds that I was using in the early days of lockdown when I was Zooming from my parents' laundry room. One is the main reading room of the midtown branch of the New York City Public Library, and one is a yarn shop. Now I'm back home, and people can see my living room wall. It's a perfectly nice wall! The only problem is that I've parked my desk under a west-facing window, and I just realized that the lighting is really weird when the sun is setting. (There's a bush in front of the window, and the light that filters through makes me look like I have spots.) That hasn't really been a problem yet, because I quit Zooming before the sun is setting, but it's going to be an issue as we get further into Fall. I think I might get a big piece of poster board and stick it in the window every afternoon when this starts happening.

I've been home for two weeks, and I'm still in lockdown honeymoon period. I'm pretty sure this will end at some point, but right now I'm enjoying it. My lawn is mowed, my house is the cleanest it's been since I moved in, and it turns out that grocery delivery works great. I am working on a mindless knitting project that I abandoned last year. I finished watching the second season of Pose. I'm planning to plant some bulbs next weekend and maybe stencil a border on my IKEA craft-supply cart. Like I said, it's the honeymoon period, but I'll take it.

My other big news is that I found out that as of September 1st, I qualify for citizenship in the EU country where my grandparents were born. I'm going to feel a little weird applying for citizenship in a country that my grandparents fled so they wouldn't get murdered, but I think I'm going to do it, because a fun lesson from my family history is that you can't afford to be too picky about your escape routes.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:33 PM on August 30 [7 favorites]


O, Denny’s made some Zoom backgrounds. They are delightfully mad.

Is that what a Denny's looks like now?
Do people want a fancy Denny's?
posted by madajb at 5:36 PM on August 30


My zoom backgrounds are either the boring headboard of my bed and the blinds above it, my living room blinds, or sometimes I sit at my dining room table and you can see part of my hallway and the "music stand" that I created on the wall near the beginning of quarantine because I was going to lose my everloving shit if I tripped over my kid's folding music stand one more time. So I got a command adhesive ledge shelf and hung it on the wall at the right height, in the part of the dining room where there's no furniture because it's the passage between kitchen and living room, and added a pair of black plastic sheets (for crafting) to create the angle, and now I have a permanent wall music stand and I'm pretty proud of it. So that's my zoom background if I sit at my dining room table. (I tried to take the photo from an angle so you could see the whole thing; the hooks next to it are so he can hang his bow up, since you can't rest your bow on the ledge.)

Also the violin music is mine, I restrung my old, old, old crappy student violin when lockdown started and bought myself a green fiberglass bow and and fixed the chin rest and, hey, it sounds pretty good! I began on violin when I was 8, and switched to bass when I was 13 and have played that ever since, so I know my way around a stringed instrument for restringing and minor repair. So I'm trying to learn how to play third position right now, I'm doing better than I did when I was a lazy shit who hated violin at age 12! My kid plays viola. He won't do duets with me because I'm his dorky mom. I'm all "BUT I CAN TRANSPOOOOOOOOSE!" and he's like "Mom. No." I'm like, "Kid, I tune your viola for you, and I repaired your bridge when you broke it so you wouldn't get in trouble with your teacher, the least you can do is play with me." And he's like, "Nope, still no."

It pains me because my husband has a nice voice but is completely musically illiterate, and when I try to teach him, he gets mad, and insists nobody can read music as fast as they have to play it (or sing it), and I try to explain it's like a second language, it just takes practice and you get faster with time, but I do totally get how trying to learn something so totally foreign as an adult is a big mental hurdle. Like, at least languages have letters or pictograms or similar; notes on a staff he's just like, "WHAT?" And then he's like "How am I supposed to pay attention to what line it's on, and whether it's empty or filled in, and what its flag looks like, AND look at all this other bullshit written above it and below it and sometimes things in the staff that aren't notes but I'm supposed to know what they mean ALL AT THE SAME TIME????" He gets particularly mad at repeats because you're going happily along and then they throw you back to some indeterminate point for no reason and if you just keep going past them you sound all wrong. Anyway I've been waiting TWENTY YEARS for someone to be able to play music with me and of course my kid won't because I'm his mom.
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 6:30 PM on August 30 [5 favorites]


We tried to host a Zoom birthday party for Little e today. Oh my god you guys this was terrrrrible. Technical issues met underdeveloped-frontal-lobe issues in such a way that none of our plans for icebreaker party games worked at all, so we just gave up and resigned ourselves to an hour and a half of feedback-squeals and kazoo. I have so much sympathy for everyone who is about to start another season of teaching children over this medium.
posted by eirias at 6:45 PM on August 30 [3 favorites]


Speech bubbles with "$#&!" for the naughty bits would also be awesome. Some friends and I use Skype, which does captioning and bleeps swearing; testing that function was entertaining. I don't always want to share my home, so I usually leave video off for zooms of any size. There are lots of dance zooms, but I find it unsatisfying - audio is poor and not always in sync, and dancing with people is the best, but zoom isn't the same as with people.

Maine had a super-spreader event; the weather has done its Labor Day switch to cool nights and even some cold days, and I am dreading winter. Had a nice visit with a friend today - covered but open deck of a brew pub and a very windy day felt pretty safe, but when it gets actually cold that option will not exist. That and the news put me into a bad funk for a day, so I watched feel-good movies. Girls Trip was fun and raunchy; recommend.
posted by theora55 at 7:30 PM on August 30


Happy birthday ALeaflikeStructure! (It’s Monday here!)
posted by ellieBOA at 10:06 PM on August 30 [1 favorite]


Thanks!
posted by ALeaflikeStructure at 5:30 AM on August 31 [1 favorite]


I'm on a mac so I only got access to backgrounds in Teams (what my work uses for meetings) quite recently. I stay audio-only most of the time, but if I'm visible I've been going for the more science-fiction-y premade backgrounds because so far the program hasn't been willing to let me upload my own - it says I can, but it doesn't work when I try.

What I'd like to do here is upload some of my artwork, specifically some of the collage pieces, or photos of flowers and insects that I've altered. Thanks to this thread, I'll try again.
posted by bile and syntax at 7:56 AM on August 31


My office, where I worked from home even before everyone worked from home ("way before it was cool"), features bookshelves because every room in the house feature bookshelves. I don't know how much crediblilty I get from them (books are alphabetized--the shelves visible from laptop on desk are roughly John Hawkes to Marlon James), but you can see my turntable and the sleeve of whatever has been playing recently (currently Spaceman 3). You can also see the top of the Stratocaster I should probably sell because I never play it anymore, but it looks cool so I guess that's basically as close as we're going to get to pure background theatrics/image cultivation.

On the other hand, I've been doing a fair amount of Moth and Moth-style storytelling events online and to differentiate from day to day (and for actual theatricality). I've been setting up in the dining room, which I can faux-theatrically light with various desk lamps.
posted by thivaia at 10:00 AM on August 31 [1 favorite]


O! While, as I said earlier, the procession of green cubes was the best general backtop for mild distractions that people kind of enjoyed, this was my favorite for absolute madness.
posted by Going To Maine at 10:22 AM on August 31 [1 favorite]


I recently shifted my desk 90° to get better light (I had been staring directly into the setting sun every afternoon, wondering why I was so headachy), and so had the opportunity to make some choices about my backdrop (some combination of my graphics card and my hair make virtual backgrounds unusable). What's behind me now is a bookshelf, a filing cabinet, and a corkboard, and I did some fussing to make them presentable. The corkboard now holds some small bits of art made by me and my friends & family. The bookshelf used to have a mess of paper piles on the top two shelves (the ones visible behind me when I'm on Zoom), but I've moved my books up there and moved the paper mess to the bottom two shelves, which are not visible if I tilt my camera correctly. I'll admit I did a bit of curation -- the tattered sci-fi trade paperbacks have gone to another bookshelf for now, replaced by slightly more respectable fiction and nonfiction -- but my D&D and other TTRPG books are sitting there just behind my right shoulder, waiting for a fellow nerd to notice. I even got a plant -- a low-maintenance golden pothos which I fully expect to kill over the next few months. Its inevitable descent should provide some visual interest for my co-workers, at least.

ArbitraryAndCapricious (and others wishing for a cheap webcam), have you looked into using your cellphone? I found a cheap app for my phone that lets my computer recognize it as a webcam and use it in video chats; it's very convenient. For the first 3-4 months of WFH, I used a hacked together stand made out some wire, some tape, and a car cellphone holder; more recently, I got one of these $15 doohickeys and it's worked quite well.
posted by ourobouros at 10:47 AM on August 31 [2 favorites]


I watch myself get more extravagantly performative

That reminds me...according to Mrs. Example, I have a "polite video meeting face" that goes on the second the camera starts up, and drops the second the meeting ends.

On a related note, I also apparently have a "meeting voice"...although she says there she gets an additional "the meeting's over" cue in the form of me starting to swear again.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 12:52 PM on August 31 [3 favorites]


This was my Zoom background for 12-step meetings the first 6 weeks or so of pandemic lockdown. I've since switched to the bridge of the Enterprise-D, both for 12-step and work meetings, to maintain my nerd status.
posted by hanov3r at 2:35 PM on August 31 [3 favorites]


As soon as Zoom backgrounds became a thing, I started messing with them. I generally took screenshots of conference calls where one of the cameras was trained on a conference room and then used that as my background. I did multiple layers of myself so that I was in front of roughly 5 other mes. The goal was to entertain and/or befuddle. Since the advent of video backgrounds I've created a couple of loops, one of which is my office where, after about 15 seconds, I pop up behind myself, then duck back down and pop up again in a different position. Once during a meeting someone noted that a person could make a loop of themselves staring at the camera and do things like scratch their chin or blink distractedly to make it more realistic. So, while we were in the meeting, I made exactly such a loop, and then put tape over my camera and used that as my background to see how long it would take people to notice.

They didn't notice.
posted by grumpybear69 at 3:01 PM on August 31 [11 favorites]


I don't have to be on video for work but I did recently move my desk. I now have a picture of Michelangelo's David in a spot that could end up on camera, so I need to be mindful of that.
posted by soelo at 3:24 PM on August 31


They didn't notice.

Probably because everyone else was set to a loop as well!
posted by mochapickle at 4:40 PM on August 31 [4 favorites]


The software we use doesn't have background replacement like that, but the actual background for all my meetings/etc is our foster kitten area, so it's basically like having a kitten livestream in the meeting as well.
posted by thefoxgod at 8:44 PM on August 31 [7 favorites]


For a little while I had a zoom background that was a picture of my work cubicle, but the joke fell a bit flat. Now that I'm back in the office, I'm tempted to make the background a picture of my desk at home, but I don't think that'll be well-appreciated either. (Both are better than the one I had for about twenty minutes in April in terrible taste, which was the brick perimeter wall of a heritage-listed prison)
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 11:05 PM on August 31 [2 favorites]


My backdrop is just bookshelves & the wall behind them. The shelves are as they were in the before times, with no alterations made for credibility's sake. In any case (i) my webcam is too poor to allow ready identification of many of the books (and the lighting doesn't help); (ii) I don't think my colleagues are in the least interested about my reading habits; (iii) most of my meetings are audio-only anyway. My ideal backdrop would also be bookshelves - but floor-to-ceiling ones.
posted by misteraitch at 12:09 AM on September 1 [1 favorite]


I keep looking for a photo of a bookshelf with nothing but The Power Broker on it, but nobody has made one available.
posted by gauche at 6:36 AM on September 1 [2 favorites]


I almost never do video on calls - saves me time from having to put on a shirt and remove all the wine bottles, hand tools and random piles of vegetables from the background.
posted by each day we work at 7:40 AM on September 1 [6 favorites]


Collections of obscure musical instruments are cool, but please, please do not be the bro that hangs your $4000 Les Paul or Jazzmaster on the wall behind you. You’re not a rock star, we know you put it there on purpose, and we know that you’re too busy putting in overtime to play it, otherwise it wouldn’t be hung up on the wall (it would be sitting on a stand next to your stack in the basement like mine). There’s a kid in my son’s class whose parents set up is like this. I mocked it mercilessly with him until I realized, from the computer in our library room which he uses, you can just barely make out in the corner my Rickenbacker 320 and Vox AC30 with the blue tolex which I don’t play and is actually set out as a decorative piece in our home. So what I’m saying is, I’m that bro I guess, don’t be me.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 7:44 AM on September 1 [7 favorites]


When all this started in my area, I only had virtual backgrounds that were photos I'd taken. It made me happy, and was a nice way to connect with people--especially since some of the photos are of places many of my coworkers and I had visited together.

I've switched to more pop culture references, but the only one people get is the distracted boyfriend meme (angled such that I am the distracting girl).

My primary one is Pee-Wee's Playhouse now. My very young coworkers ask me if it's Blue's Clues.

I also sometimes amuse myself with Fox Mulder's office, because no one recognizes it AND it's hilarious to me to have a virtual background of a messy af office while everyone else is choosing pristine modern home office fake backgrounds.

When I have to interact with interviewees and outside partners my background is the office. It's professional and a good talking point (the office is very cool-looking).

My coworkers definitely screw with each other with their backgrounds, in lighthearted ways. One day the entire Engineering team used a photo one of them had taken pre-pandemic at their manager's house as their background. Another person uses cartoon show backgrounds but hides a tiny image of their work BFF in each of them somewhere.
posted by rhiannonstone at 7:17 PM on September 1 [2 favorites]


I've got Sir Humphrey's office from Yes, Prime Minister and the upper chamber of the Dutch parliament (the lower chamber is depressing looking).

The actual background behind me is a blank white wall which is professional but boring.
posted by atrazine at 8:57 AM on September 2


I only have a verbal , and thus haven't put in my notice yet so this is a little bit of a secret, but, I got a new job!!!!! I am SO excited about this. 5 miles from home, working in my dream industry (food production (and a nice-smelling one, nuts/snacks , not like a salami factory)) , only a slight bump in salary but with a very generous sign-on bonus. And! Second shift! I love those hours, and being able to be home during daylight.

I had a 4-hr interview with them yesterday, wrapping up around 4:30 pm and had a call from the recruiter at 830 this morning, so both sides are equally excited, which is also great. Wooooooo!
posted by Sparky Buttons at 9:18 AM on September 3 [11 favorites]


I alternate working from the couch or the chaise. The couch has better lighting and options of either a nice blank wall or my liquor cabinet in the background. The couch looks out on the air shaft and the neighbor's roof, but apparently the air shaft produces excellent lighting for zoom calls. Who knew? The background from the chaise is a bookcase. Not super-interesting, and I haven't moved the books around, but I have Irigaray's Speculuum of the Other Woman shelved next to Daly's Gyn/Ecology, for my own amusement, but I don't think the titles are very readable.

The cats, especially Roswell, make frequent appearances in my calls. I think Roswell, or at least his tail, appeared in all of my calls today. I do like seeing coworkers pets and kids on camera.
posted by gingerbeer at 11:14 PM on September 3


Update: someone noticed my piano in the background and has requested the Mii channel music as background the next time we're all sitting waiting for a meeting to start, so that's a thing now.
posted by btfreek at 9:35 AM on September 4


I've moved from a Zoom shop to a WebEx shop, and they just got WebEx virtual backgrounds, so I've cumulatively spent the last 5 months with people for whom the novelty has yet to die.

I find virtual backgrounds immensely distracting. The whole thing has prompted me to finally dust off the light table, which provides diffuse lighting at a low setting and is generally pleasing as a standing desk. There's a bookshelf behind me, upon which the kitty spends most of my screen-heavy days. I think it looks pretty professional, aside from the cat. But I'm a librarian, so it's obligatory.
posted by aspersioncast at 2:54 PM on September 4


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