Thought Box

What your Zoom background says about you

What your Zoom background says about you

by Dr. Sandeep Goyal September 10 2020, 12:29 am Estimated Reading Time: 4 mins, 27 secs

Dr Sandeep Goyal shares his thoughts about the present and popular cult of Zoom calls and what the backgrounds say about you.

I had barely used Zoom a few times before the pandemic. So, when asked to join a ‘call’, it did not naturally occur to me that we were not going to be on an actual conference call - on the phone. I wasn’t expecting to be on camera in a video meeting.

I wasn’t ready, my ‘background’ wasn’t ready, and I was kind of caught off-guard. I quickly fetched my laptop and settled into our living room sofa. The laptop camera caught a small Paresh Maity painting on the wall behind me. The chat box started to pile up with ‘oohs’, ‘aahs’ and the ‘wows’ about the Maity. The painting attracted more screen-time interest than the subject of the call. I actually didn’t know whether to feel flattered by all the attention my background had attracted or to feel embarrassed for having become an inadvertent eyeball grabber.

Ever since, I have become more careful and observant. Not only about my own background when on Zoom, but the ones used by others.

The winner-all-the-way without an iota of doubt among backgrounds, virtual or real, is the library background - rows of neatly stacked books - to make you look scholarly, cerebral and well informed?

Ninety per cent of library backgrounds, by the way are fake; you can display books on a subject you want to brag about - cetology, enzyme kinetics, environmental acoustics or ethnomusicology - supposedly your favorite bedtime and niksen readings.

Ninety per cent of the real library backgrounds have carefully curated close-up views of Shakespeare, Byron, Haruki Murakami titles and those of last year’s Nobel prize winners, Olga Tokarczuk and Peter Handke - you know that the person on the call is erudite and has really evolved reading tastes.

The next most favored background, surprisingly, is the bare-wall look, intended to communicate ‘minimalist’ (bordering evolved) tastes. Also, that the participant is self-confident, matter-of-fact, no-nonsense and business-like. This I am told is the usual Harvard/Stanford/Wharton background meant to convey, ‘I am I, period.’

An ‘outdoorsy’ background, interestingly, has started to be accorded second-grade status. “It is seriously wannabe stuff”, warned my 24-year-old nephew, “especially if you have actually not been to Lake Tahoe or the Uyuni Flats in Bolivia but are showing them in the background. The ones who know, snigger.”

So what’s the choice, I asked? Emulate Elon Musk. “Have the galaxy or the Milky Way kind of stretching behind you. Cues vastness (of ambition), open-mindedness, out-of-the-box thinking and infinity.” Well!

Of the real backgrounds, the universal favorite by far, is the one with a pet (dog 52 per cent, puppy 28 per cent, cat 20 per cent) comfortably snoozing on the sofa behind. And, if the puppy wakes up, stretches, jumps off the sofa and goes out of frame during the course of the call, that is a straight 100 per cent bonus. The pet signals (a) loving (b) loving (c) loving - and loving equals warm, friendly, compassionate, empathetic and trustworthy. This is the best gig in town.

What about an actual untidy, unkempt real home with kids’ toys, some dirty linen and unwashed mugs and plates carelessly strewn around in the background? - Mixed feedback really on that. In the first week of the pandemic, it was labeled cute. But post that the assessment simply pivoted to, “Bah! He doesn’t even help around the house? Terrible!”

And then there is the much-in-vogue ‘enigmatic’ background - the Lochinvar sword hanging on the wall just behind - cutting-edge decision-maker or just plain dangerous?

An Ogata Kenzan pot on the far bureau is aesthetic. Yes but vain. Meanwhile the Steinway piano, usually virtual on the other hand - makes for someone who is agreeable, pleasant and easy to get along with too and a Saraswati veena seen in the background points to a sanskari persona. A big Harley vrooming is representative of someone signaling ‘my way or the highway’ and is avoidable, for sure.

What about the huge Ganesha?

No, no, no. Religious symbols, especially with overseas colleagues in attendance on the call are a strict no. But, a glimpse during the recent Ganapati festival, just to show your deity to friends and colleagues? The answer is still no.  And yes, a neat bouquet of flowers in the background is cheerful, accommodating and positive.

What does a black background say about you? Well, that’s a tough question. It stands for a mean negotiator, doesn’t give an inch and not to be trusted.

Is there no ‘normal’ background?

Sure there is. For the fuddy-duddy, non-tech savvy 50-year old whose kitchen you can clearly see (indicating concurrently that the call is being made from the dining table), with constant movements by the missus and pressure cooker sounds too. Well, this is a sure candidate for the pink slips being handed out these days aplenty - poor chap simply misunderstood the cryptic HR missive, ‘Background check negative’.

Source: Business Standard

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The writers are solely responsible for any claims arising out of the contents of this article.