One of the hallmarks of an ADHD brain is that you sometimes notice strange things.
I can watch an action movie in which the hero ziplines from the top of a skyscraper to crash through the glass wall of a penthouse, so he can incinerate the evil villain with a flamethrower and rescue the heroine from a hot tub of piranhas.
And I’ll turn to my movie-going partner and say, “Man, did you notice that fantastic marble in the tub?”
Likewise, if I’m watching a movie that is a bit talky and not holding my interest, I will start to watch the “extras” in the background to make sure they’re doing a good job. How is Extra No. 3’s table manners? Why does it appear that Extra No. 7 is breaking up with Extra No. 8 over at Table 5? What is Extra No. 11’s motivation for looking so grumpy on camera? Is he angry that he’s been seated so close to the bathrooms and didn’t get a showier role like the waiter who is making bananas flambe?
Consequently, our new world of videoconferencing has opened up a whole new world for me. Suddenly, I am able to “see-vesdrop” on people’s homes and make outrageous (and probably erroneous) conclusions about them based on this rare glimpse into their personal habitats.
That person with the single small print on one wall and a chrome apple on a white end table behind them? Obviously a minimalist.
The one whose living room looks like a Pottery Barn catalog? She watches HGTV 24-7.
The one with magazines stacked on every surface and a spare mattress leaning up against the wall? He’s had to work in the spare bedroom and hasn’t had time to make it a real office.
The person who keeps looking down, muting himself and yelling at something, plus has a carpet shampooer stationed in the middle of the room? That guy just got a puppy.
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This game is even more fun when watching the news. Then you get a cross-country view of how Americans live. There’s something curiously comforting about knowing that world-class economists and former secretaries of state occasionally have to pontificate from rooms with kayaks leaned against the wall or dusty record albums stacked on an ironing board.
Most of these guest experts position themselves in front of books, so we realize how learned and well-read they are. Even so, these carefully constructed backdrops reveal a surprise or two. It’s a great day when you scan the background to discover that nuclear physicist has “Does This Beach Make Me Look Fat?” stationed next to that weighty tome on particle physics.
Of course, it didn’t take long for people to figure out that it is much easier to build the perfect office space with pixels than with paint, crown molding and new furnishings. Most of these video apps have functions that make it possible to create a virtual “office,” ranging from a posh executive office or Tuscan vineyard to — I kid you not — a Joe Exotic “Tiger King” background.
The trade-off is that, if you move your head even a fraction, it will merge with the background and you will look like you are melting.
But it’s a small price to pay for not having to shiplap a room to impress your co-workers.
Readers can reach columnist Tammy Swift at firstname.lastname@example.org.