Why I keep using my laptop’s built-in webcam even though I know better
I am the very person who should care about my appearance on Zoom calls. I don’t mean the state of my hair or appearance of hormonal acne on my face. I’m talking image quality. Focal length. Bokeh. I have written about and reviewed cameras and smartphones for over a decade. I use videoconferencing platforms throughout my work day. I own a nice camera that I could connect to my laptop and use for Zoom meetings. But I won’t, and I simply do not care.
I know how much more 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 employ a softly blurred background behind me. If I did, maybe I’d command more respect in meetings. My colleagues might scroll through a sea of thumbnails on our staff meeting Zoom and, seeing the sheer professionalism that my image exudes, would think to themselves, “Man, Allison really has her shit together.” Instead, they see the grainy image of a person who has clearly not gotten enough sleep and a cluttered, disgustingly in-focus background.
I wish I could blame my apathy on lockdown fatigue. We’re entering year three of this virus; at this point the pandemic has had more false endings than Return of the King. There are too many real things to care about, I could argue, like variants and case numbers. But I know in my heart of hearts I still wouldn’t care even if I could reclaim the emotional energy I spend each day worrying about whether the public space I’m in is properly ventilated. I’m just not interested.
Many of my co-workers do use their nice cameras on video calls, with special tripods and flattering lighting to boot. They look amazing! I applaud their efforts! And for them, I think it’s about more than just looking a little fancy on a Zoom meeting. It’s the product of the shared trait that unites all of us nerds: the inclination to tinker with things.
There are things I enjoy tinkering 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 turning my Animal Crossing island into Jurassic Park.
Many reasonable people would consider that to be a poor use of time. To me, it was prime tinkering. I’m indifferent to tinkering with my webcam, but I’ll happily 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, tinker away — whether it’s your fancy webcam, the PC you built from spare parts lying around your apartment, or the perfect espresso grind. I’ll be over here looking like a videoconferencing amateur, but you can bet my Animal Crossing island is immaculate. We’re all going to need our projects to keep tinkering with — it looks like we’re not leaving home in 2022, either.