I’m the person who should care about my appearance during Zoom conversations. I don’t mean the condition of my hair or the appearance of hormonal acne on my face. I’m talking about image quality. focal length. Bokeh. I’ve been writing and reviewing cameras and smartphones for over ten years. I use video conferencing platforms throughout my workday. I have a nice camera that I can connect to my laptop and use it for Zoom meetings. But I don’t, and I just don’t care.
I know how flattering a longer focal length would be than my MacBook Air’s built-in wide-angle lens. I have the tools, the knowledge and the power to use a softly blurred background behind me. If I did, maybe I would command more respect in meetings. My coworkers can scroll through a sea of thumbnails at our staff meeting Zoom and, given the sheer professionalism my image exudes, would think to themselves, “Man, Allison really has her shit together.” Instead, they see the grainy image of a person who clearly hasn’t gotten enough sleep and a cluttered, disgustingly blurry background.
I wish I could blame my apathy on lockdown fatigue. We are entering the third year of this virus; right now the pandemic has had more false endings than Return of the King. There are too many real things to worry about, I might say, like variants and case numbers. But deep in my heart I know I still don’t care, even if I could regain the emotional energy I spend every day worrying about whether the public space I’m in is properly ventilated. I’m just not interested.
Many of my colleagues do use their fancy cameras for video calls, with special tripods and flattering lighting to boot. They look great! I applaud their efforts! And for them, I think it’s about more than looking a little fancy at a Zoom meeting. It’s the product of the shared trait that unites all of us geeks: the tendency to tinker with things.
There are things I like to tinker with, and there are things I don’t. I use the built-in speakers on my TV and the built-in grinder on my espresso machine; audio nerds and espresso nerds would find this horrifying. On the other hand, I spent a significant portion of the summer of 2020 running my Animal Crossing island in Jurassic Park.
Many reasonable people would consider that a bad use of their time. For me it was primarily tinkering. I’m indifferent to tinkering with my webcam, but I’ll be happy to tinker with some pixel art to make sure I get the “Danger: 10,000 volts” sign just right on the Tyrannosaurus Rex paddock.
So, my fellow nerds, get going — whether it’s your fancy webcam, the PC you built with spare parts lying around your apartment, or the perfect espresso grind. I’ll be here looking like a video conferencing amateur, but you can rest assured that my Animal Crossing island is immaculate. We’re all going to need our projects to keep tinkering – it looks like we won’t be leaving home in 2022 either.