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’m not talking about the condition of my hair or the appearance of hormonal acne on my face. I’m talking about picture quality. Focal distance. Bokeh. I have written and reviewed cameras and smartphones for over a decade. I use videoconferencing platforms throughout my work day. I have a nice camera that I could hook up to my laptop and use for Zoom meetings. But I won’t, and I just don’t 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 slightly blurry background behind me. If I did, maybe I would command more respect in meetings. My coworkers could scroll through a sea of ​​thumbnails of our Zoom staff meeting and, seeing the professionalism my image exudes, would be thinking, “Dude, Allison really has her shit together.” Instead, they see the grainy image of someone who clearly hasn’t got enough sleep and a cluttered, disgusting background.

I wish I could attribute my apathy to the fatigue of confinement. We are entering the third year of this virus; at this point the pandemic has had more false endings than Return of the king. I could argue that there are too many real things to worry about like variants and case numbers. But I know deep in my heart that I still wouldn’t care even if I could recapture the emotional energy I spend every day wondering if the public space I find myself in is properly ventilated. I am not interested.

Many of my colleagues use their nice cameras for video calls, with special tripods and flattering lighting to boot. They look amazing! I applaud their efforts! And for them, I think it’s not just about looking a little whimsical in a Zoom meeting. It’s the product of a common trait that unites us all, the nerds: the urge to tinker.

There are things I like to DIY and things that I don’t like. I use my TV’s built-in speakers and my espresso machine’s built-in grinder; audio nerds and espresso nerds would find this horrible. On the other hand, I spent a good part of the summer of 2020 transforming my Animal crossing island in jurassic park.

It was a real labor of love.

Many reasonable people would view this as a misuse of time. For me, it was top notch DIY. 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 right on the Tyrannosaurus Rex paddock.

So, my nerd friends, tinker with it, whether it’s your fancy webcam, the PC you’ve built from spare parts lying around your apartment, or the perfect espresso grind. I’ll be here looking like a videoconferencing enthusiast, but you can bet my Animal crossing the island is immaculate. We’ll all need our plans to keep tinkering – it looks like we’re not leaving home in 2022 either.


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