Your video conference background says a lot

Posted by Flux on 

14 July 2020

This article was originally published on City Press’s website. Scroll down to continue reading …


Do you know that there is a strange link between a disease and architecture?

I didn’t, but was glad to stumble across an article in The New Yorker last month by Kyle Chayka titled How the Coronavirus will Reshape Architecture.

It explains how TB came to shape modernist architecture in the early 20th century. So, if you’re living in a home with clean lines, white walls and crisp metal fixtures, you have TB to thank. Who’d have thought?

TB has been around for thousands of years but it was only in 1882 that the real cause was identified by a German doctor, Robert Koch. By then the disease, commonly referred to as “consumption”, was part of life.

So much so that the famous Swiss architect Le Corbusier designed his house elevated off the humid ground to reduce the risk of catching the disease.

Other architects of the era designed houses to accommodate the disease, such as separate spaces to quarantine the sick.

The clean lines and austere appearance of this new form of architecture mirrored the clinical and industrial feel of hospitals and provided a reassuring sense of cleanliness.

On my trend radar there are more and more articles of how the Covid-19 coronavirus is starting to reshape urban planning. In cities around the world there are suddenly more bicycle lanes provided for those who prefer pedalling to work, rather than risking the claustrophobic confines of public transport.

Office spaces, restaurants and gyms will undergo radical spatial design changes to ensure physical distancing during the Great Staggering – the period between the full lockdown and full freedom of movement.

On a smaller, but not insignificant scale, there is an unusual social cultural shift taking place, thanks to video conferencing. Platforms such as Zoom and Skype have become a lifeline for businesses during the lockdown, and are now set to become a standard communication method even after the pandemic is brought under control.

Video conferencing comes with its own set of rules and etiquette, such as muting your microphone when you’re not speaking and, for those who care for detail, balanced lighting, dressing for the meeting and the all-important background you present to the world.

Platforms such as Zoom allow you to insert a virtual background to your video feed, so you can appear to be attending your meeting from a beach bungalow. Depending on your internet connection, these virtual backgrounds can either look brilliant or the green screen can start blurring your image, resulting in your extremities – like your ears – being cut off.

Most people have by now cottoned on to the importance of the video conferencing background you present to the world, and this is where it becomes interesting and telling. Since we’re going to be stuck in our homes for a while longer, if not by law then voluntarily as infection rates rise, a video conferencing call has now become a glimpse into your home life and, by association, your lifestyle, social standing and taste.

Many people seem to opt for the “academic” approach, choosing to use a bookshelf as standard background. The message is: “I am well read, therefore I have gravitas.”

Others choose a well-lit and stylish room in their home, with perhaps a statement piece of furniture, tasteful soft furnishings and/or a vase of fresh flowers randomly placed in the background, although with video conferencing, nothing in the background is random.

However, there is the “I don’t care” brigade, who really do present a random slice of their lives to the world. These are people who are comfortable showing the haphazard chaos of their living spaces: disorganised office shelves, chaotic kitchens and, inevitably, bad lighting (either back-lit so you can’t see their faces or light from their computer screens giving those who wear glasses blue or green alien-like shields in front of their eyes).

Some of the “I don’t care” brigade might just not know better and, if so, they should up their game. Just like the subtle body language signals you would give off in a face-to-face job interview, these visual clues speak volumes about who you are dealing with. Video conferencing has provided a deeper, public probe into our personal lives as the line between work and home continue to blur.

Sitting below the “I don’t care” brigade is the “I really don’t give a damn” outliers, such as Christopher Mulaudzi, who logged in to a joint meeting of the parliamentary portfolio committee on public works and infrastructure last month while lying in bed. Mulaudzi didn’t even bother with the niceties of what his headboard looked like, but he was topless and only wearing boxer shorts.

That was not so much an unsubtle visual clue about his sleeping space, but rather a glimpse of his mind-set and what kind of attention to detail he observes.

Next time you log in to a video meeting, double-check your background. It speaks volumes about you, while your mute button is on.

Arrow Up

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