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Age of Aquarium: Choose a green screen if you can’t be bothered to tidy up.
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THE X-PAT FILES - Scott Garceau (The Philippine Star) - September 27, 2020 - 12:00am

I’ve got a bone to pick with the new normal.

As we’re all getting adjusted to the work-from-home environment, a fair amount of attention is now being paid to the inside of our homes. It figures: a camera is being aimed at you on Zoom or whatever, and it’s beamed into your domicile. So people like to nose around, take a peek at your lifestyle.

What we’ve seen emerge over the past seven months or so is a template that most people seem eager to project to the Zoom world: generally, a set of nicely selected and carefully arranged books in a shelf as a background, or perhaps some kind of abstract art to lend a minimalist vibe to one’s environment.

So, by default, everyone is expected to somehow live up to this minimalist zen vibe.

This is not something I signed up for.

I won’t say my surrounding work environment at home is a pigsty, but prior to COVID, I never gave much thought to shaping it up into a neat and tidy space. I just “let it be.”

So it’s basically a rat’s nest of protruding books, envelopes stuffed into shelves, thumbtacked postcards and dusty stacks of CDs. There are old shopping bags folded up and stuffed willy-nilly into every crevice. There are piles of magazines that somehow didn’t make it to recycling.

So, faced with this kind of environment that I stopped paying attention to long ago, it’s not surprising that my brother-in-law threw a little shade recently, saying our Zoom background is “magulo.” I know enough Tagalog to understand that’s not a compliment. It’s a judgment. My environment is messy. It does not “spark joy.”

So why did it become required that we present only media-friendly home spaces to the world? Who says we all have to live up to Architectural Digest photo shoot levels?

Of course, I blame it on COVID, which has forced all of us to “prepare a Zoom face to meet the Zoom faces that you meet” on a regular basis, to paraphrase T.S. Eliot.

But I also blame phone games.

Epic fail: Who needs virtual strangers rating your design choices? Lots of people in lockdown, it turns out.

Recently, my wife downloaded one called Redecor, in which you are a virtual interior decorator, adding design elements to nice, minimal home spaces — you choose the wallpaper, the upholstery on the furniture, the complementary teals and turquoises, all to make your virtual spaces nice and spiffy. You send your final results to other users who “rate” your choices. You are rewarded with some kind of virtual affirmation (“Great job!”) or some unsubtle diss served up by a sourpuss matron who shakes her head sadly and says “EPIC FAIL!” if she doesn’t like the leopard-skin drapes you chose.

My wife loves the game. But I find it to be just another skill I never yearned to master, or ever needed to think about, before COVID came around. Now it’s clean up your act, or else face home-shaming.

If only it were as easy as Redecor: just press a button on your phone, and the stacks of newspapers are switched with live, healthy ferns; the cobwebs vanish, replaced by cool overhead pin lighting; the piles of un-closeted clothes are swapped out with Philippe Starck furniture.

Instead, you’re stuck with the space you had before COVID. And you could do a radical Marie Kondo on your environment, which feels good for a while, but also makes you end up asking yourself, “Why did I give those shirts away? What was I thinking?”

Of course, the big joke is that people now boast about attending Zoom meetings sans pants — like it’s some big geeky act of rebellion to only be dressed from the waist up. But I guarantee these people put way more thought into their Zoom backgrounds than they let on.

That’s why green screens have become so popular. You can throw up anything in back of you — a logo, a lush forest, a live aquarium, or a moving roller-coaster loop — and nobody will know you actually live in squalor.

Other people tell me they just aim their laptop camera up to the ceiling, to avoid having to show inside their homes. Yeah, like that’s not an obviously shady move.

We have not yet reached an established protocol for Zoom, though of course it’s never cool to curse a blue streak when you’re not muted, or if somebody parades around in the background in their birthday suit because you left your video on. I mean, we’re not savages here. I get it. But do we really all have to have that Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval set of books or abstract canvas on the wall to avoid work-from-home judgment? Can’t we all just, you know, get along?

The weird thing about the fish-eye lens aimed into our fishbowl homes is that it’s led to more grooming consciousness stuff we’d normally need to think about for actual physical press events, but which you kinda hoped you’d get a pass on while working from home. Nothing worse than being “spotlighted” with muta or beard crumbs.

I don’t know. I don’t like it. I’m not suggesting we should all reveal our slobby sides to the world; I’m just asking the world to be a little more understanding. Less judgy.

For now, I’ll probably just go with the live aquarium background on my green screen. It’s easier than cleaning.

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