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Zoom Backgrounds Now More Important Than Fashion Sense

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Casando said, “I haven’t left my house in months. I wouldn’t be caught dead without my zoom background!”
Photo by Sharon Roth

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to mandate the daily use of Zoom for online classes, users everywhere are realizing that, as one UCSD student claimed, “what others see in your Zoom background matters way more than anything else on the screen, even clothing.” Over the past seven months, sales have increased for sweatpants and decreased for dress shirts. Individuals working from home have also invested an increasing amount of time and money towards home renovation and reorganizing specific areas into Zoom-designated zones.

“When everything transitioned to remote, I thought it was okay since I normally show up for classes wearing pajamas,” explained second-year UCSD student Chris Lei. “However, after one class where I got ridiculed in the chat because people could see dirty clothes strewn across my furniture, I realized something had to change. That was Spring and now for the Fall I’ve completely redone my setup. By that, I just mean I’ve tilted my laptop screen further back.”

Lei admitted that he feels especially vulnerable turning on his camera in Zoom, citing a fear of standing out. “I and probably many other people grew up being encouraged to stand out, but things could not be farther from the truth these days,” Lei said. “All of a sudden, I have so many worries that I’d considered trivial last year, like is it okay if the wall behind me isn’t white? Would a bookcase there make me look more studious? Is it bad if others can see my mini-bar in the frame?”

Such concerns have led many users to use virtual backgrounds for their Zoom calls instead. However, Holly Casando, a UCSD graduate student, said that she does not follow this practice because she fears the message that it sends. “When I see other students in front of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Taj Mahal, or whatever, I just can’t help but think that they are super embarrassed about their real surroundings,” she admitted. “It makes me afraid that I’ll be judged if I opt for the Himalayas or something less embarrassing than my actual surroundings: wallpaper with ducklings that I’ve had since I was six.”

Casando isn’t alone. In addition to the increased traffic at home improvement websites, statistics also demonstrate that websites supplying directions on how to treat injuries sustained around the house are more frequently perused. When asked for comment about this trend, Casando said for her, renovation was “worthwhile quarantine exercise.” Casando explained, “I nearly destroyed my back shoving around furniture at the start of this remote learning nonsense,” said Cansado, “but it was worth it to keep my more personal stuff away from prying eyes. Being on Zoom is just so uncomfortable, knowing that most people aren’t even listening to the professors, and instead are watching the other video feeds — waiting for a cat butt, or reading what’s in someone’s bookcase, or looking at a person who’s clearly watching Netflix on another tab. It’s a complete invasion of privacy that makes me wish I lived in North Korea. At least they don’t have the coronavirus anymore.”

Casando pointed to her new plants that she purchased to decorate her room. “It’s nice having plant life, but it feels artificial since I really only got it for Zoom,” she said. “You can’t look too pathetic, but at the same time you can’t look too extravagant either. There’s some unspoken sweet spot that everyone is aiming for. And right now I’m trying to decide whether it would be pathetic to hang up an old bedsheet to hide that embarrassing wallpaper.”

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