Judging backgrounds

Things are certainly different these days. I’ve never had so many meetings online as I’ve had in the past few months.

Before that, they were kind of a novelty. You’d join the Zoom, Meet, or Skype call and wave to folks and then turn the camera off. With meetings lasting sometimes for an hour or more, nobody needed to see what I was doing. I did make a mistake once and left the camera on for a CSTA meeting and the folks saw that I had a glass of wine. After the heckling, it seemed like a good idea and people joined in in the future. These days, I still meet with Computer Science teachers from the University of Northern Iowa for a beer on Friday afternoon. We start each meeting sharing what we have that particular day.

I suppose that judging how people look in their conference room was always a possibility but we’ve found over the past while that many people focus on what’s behind you. As my son would call you, Judgey McJudge.

I’ve started to pay more attention to interviews on television in particular and what people have in the background. It’s amazing the political statements, pictures, and if they’ve written a book, how it’s in the background. In the movies, we would call that product placement and it’s something that companies pay big bucks to have (who can forget Reese’s Pieces in E.T.); now it’s something that everyone does.

So, what does my typical background look like?

This was a typical picture. My wife would complain that I didn’t wear a shirt with a collar and I’d reply that the one I’m wearing was at the top of the drawer. To my left, you’ll see a tie rack with all kinds of dusty ties. Why do I keep them all? Who knows?

To my right, you’ll see a bookshelf with packed books that could easily fill two bookshelves except I’m too cheap to buy another one. Straight behind me, you’ll see a door. Where does it go? Well, when we added this room onto the house, I wanted a computer area and got it. My wife wanted a second washroom and it’s right behind me. It’s convenient but be aware that the next time we video chat, I might be in the bathtub or at the sink shaving. To my extreme left, you’ll see a patio door that gets left open in moderate temperatures. If you listen to the This Week in Ontario Edublogs podcast, you might occasionally hear wind chimes from the patio if the weather is right and the door is open.

That’s my digital home for the most part. I did try another location for one of my meetings with a CSTA friend. I went out to the patio and was sitting in a chair and it was going well … until the wind picked up. Embarrassingly, I ended up looking like I was in a snow storm with the poplar fluffies coming down and eventually the wind knocked over the umbrella right on top of me. I had to finish the call holding it in one hand. I wish I’d taken a picture.

So, that’s my story and I’ll bet you know what the call to action at the end of this post will be.

But first …

Those who are doing video online are open for judgement too. There’s a user called “Room Rater” on Twitter. The purpose of the account seems to be to capture images and rate them. (D’uh, the name gives it away)

Who could forget the images of our Prime Minister in front of his cottage, addressing the nation.

By this metric, it gets a 9/10. Not bad at all.

Going to this user and scrolling through the screen captures and commentary is fun and interesting.

So, the call to action. You can rate me if you wish but I’d be interested in your own experiences doing online video calls.

What do you have in your background? What do you have in your background that you wish you didn’t? How much planning went into setting things up? Or, anything else about video chatting that you’re interested in sharing. Please do.

5 thoughts on “Judging backgrounds

  1. Doug, thanks for sharing your story here! I always have the same background for my calls, as I tend to do my online meetings and discussions in the basement. My dogs won’t come downstairs, which helps eliminate the barkfest from the meeting time. 🙂 I have an old gas fireplace behind me as well as a black table where I tend to pile things, so having this as my background forces me to clean up. 🙂 I also have a large music note picture. Many comment on it. Really the poster just covers a hole in the wall that I should patch, but hey, until this call to action, nobody knew that. 🙂 Never have I re-positioned my camera so much and considered my background with such intensity. During the school year, since my meetings were often with 4-6 year olds, my camera stayed on the whole time. Young kids really need to see you to connect with you, and so we all kept our cameras on. Maybe this is why the background mattered so much. Yet in the classroom, the mess never really bothered me … hmmm! instagram.com/p/B74rno6hlY7/?igshid=1cxzy2eywh6ax (See what I mean about mess?!) Curious to read about other people’s backgrounds.



  2. I’ve been doing meetings in my dining room with a window behind me. You’ll not get a lot of clues about my house. I recently bought a green table cloth with the idea of setting up a green screen behind me so I can put up an interesting background in tools like Zoom that allow for such things. I just don’t know what to use for an image.


  3. I move around. Sometimes I am outside and the neighbour’s trees are my background and sometimes my kids on the trampoline are in the background. If I am indoors, I might be on my couch and you’ll see a painting in the background. I might also be at the kitchen counter and you’ll see the dining room behind me. In the beginning I intended to be in my “office”, also known as the sewing room. I have painted a chalkboard wall in there and I was writing messages. Alas, my husband decided it was a great place for him to work and took it over for a while. When he moved back into the dining room I was relieved to have my sewing room back and set the machine back up. I’ve been in there 3 times to sew. If outside could be my permanent spot I’d be so happy! Alas, the weather doesn’t always make this reasonable.


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