You could spend hours carefully curating the background of your Zoom calls, removing a childhood poster here, painting over a garishly colored wall there. It seems there are endless ways to carefully construct an image of your surroundings for your classmates, colleagues, and friends. For those of us only willing to put in minimal effort, a virtual Zoom background can be an even more efficient facade. Without the authenticity of in-person exchanges, the framing of laptop cameras can make our interactions grow increasingly saccharine and artificial.
But workspaces lack the same polish.
Even if this sounds like a 2013 Tumblr quote, every background tells some story, mundane, fictitious, or otherwise. It is the workspaces, the desks, the dining room tables, the disheveled beds that sit just out of view of our webcams that give a more honest picture of our real world. No one spends time staging their desk for Zoom, because no one sees your desk over Zoom.
Each workspace is an intimate portrait of a person, an expression of some period of transience, some manifestation of their subconscious. Or potentially it’s just a desk.
We solicited our classmates, some Crimson writers, others not, to send us photos of where they spend their days online to get a new perspective on what is not included in a Zoom frame.
Aiyana G. White ’23
Even though I do most of my homework at my desk, I actually Zoom a lot of my classes from a folding table in my garage so that the noise doesn’t bother my family. Although it is nice not to have to worry about people bursting into the background of my classes, I much prefer working from inside.
My desk in my bedroom is the same loft bed/desk set up I’ve had since middle school, even though the decorations and prints I have up have changed, so it’s a comforting space to me in that way. I think the two spaces are good reflections of my current mental state: My desk outside is a blank spot, whereas my desk inside is organized chaos. I often feel like I am teetering between the two, a mindset where everything either feels like too much or nothing at all.
NAOMI K. HEGWOOD '23
I am quite the scatterbrain and generally just a mess of a person, so my desk has almost always reflected that. With or without the pandemic, on campus or off, it would have been this messy, although I do think attending Zoom University has actually made it slightly more organized.
JESSIE H. LEE ’23
I think my desk represents me trying to switch to “school mode,” which has been really hard — I still feel like I’m on summer break. As you can see, my workspace hasn’t fully dissociated from my bed yet.
ANDREA H. LIU ’23
I've tried to keep my space cleaner now that I have to be here for classes all the time, and seeing clutter makes me nervous. I think my desk shows my attempt to maintain order amongst all the ~chaos~.
MATYLDA A. URBANIAK ’24
Depressed, stressed, but trying not to live in a mess!
ANDY Z. WANG '23
I’ve been trying to keep my desk as clean and minimalistic as possible in order to make it easier to get through my day. It’s a place to work and study, but it’s also part of my bedroom and I don’t want to feel like I’m constantly overwhelmed by what I have going on.
JANET H. LIU ’23
Holding onto college nostalgia.
YOUSUF BAKSHI ’23
I’ve always tried to keep things structured and organized and this has carried on into my sophomore year from freshman year. It reflects how I aspire and want to be, but doesn’t quite reflect how stressed I am right now. I go through lots of water a day so that’s why there are still empty bottles on my desk because I haven’t had time to chuck them out yet. The tea also helps keep me caffeinated and going well into the night.
SARAH M. SHIRLEY ’23
IAN M. ESPY ’23
My dad’s desk that I took over. It’s always looked like this basically.
MALIYA V. ELLIS ‘23
Welcome to my wannabe-aesthetic workspace. On first glance, you might note the aspirational organizing structures — calendar, sticky notes, pinned Gmail tab in my browser. Second glance, however, would reveal that my calendar is completely blank, sticky notes are unused, and I have 1,522 unread emails. Don’t mention the dishes, tissues, and miscellaneous masks.
ANNA T. BLANCHFIELD ’23
My space has moved around a lot within my house, much like I have learned to adapt and change my plans during this time of pandemic. This current space has been developed out of a need for a quiet workspace where I could go undisturbed and not disturb others in my house. It’s pretty unorganized like my work schedule has been.
IZZY M. GOODCHILD-MICHELMAN ’23
I have started to keep my workspace much neater since the beginning of quarantine, mainly because I was used to being able to spread out/move around to different work spaces, but now that I have limited space in my parents house I try to keep stuff from piling up. I didn’t have an interest in gardening/growing plants pre-pandemic, but now I really enjoy having some in my work space. It’s nice to be able to watch something grow and thrive during such a sad time. The fact that I am making more conscious choices about ordering my workspace probably also stems from feeling unable to control other aspects of my life right now (the health of my friends and family, travel, academics).
KEVIN TAN ’23
I keep the ibuprofen close and the sources of my headaches closer. Missing my dorm decor that’s sitting pretty with Olympia right now so we’ve gone full minimal. My desk is a facade for the disaster that is my emotional and spiritual state. #livingvicariously
OLIVIA G. OLDHAM ’22
I just moved to Swarthmore, Penn. Most of the furniture in my apartment was free or extremely cheap: a free orange couch given by a neighbor, a very old chair bought on Craigslist, a dinosaur-shaped lamp found discarded in the basement. This desk is in keeping with the theme: It is simply a wooden door from Home Depot velcroed to two sawhorses gifted by my aunt. It works perfectly. It probably symbolizes my general transience as I move around and figure out my time off. Or something.
GUILLAUME A.P. BOUCHARD ’23
I’m taking this time to reflect on my home country and see it up close on a cross-Canada road trip and media project. Pictured is beautiful Regina, Saskatchewan!
Before the pandemic, papers and coats would slowly spread across desks in Lamont. The small wooden cubicles on the third floor became little dioramas of someone’s semester — a formerly barren space that a student called home for an afternoon or a night, turned the impersonal into the personal. Those spaces had a certain egalitarian beauty: We all had the same blank canvas to fill when we walked in.
Now we are all starting with different canvases, and letting the process repeat. Doors, beds, and dining room tables have been conscripted to contain our studies and the (gap) semester’s entropy. While far from egalitarian, there is a certain beauty in that nonetheless.
— Staff writer Kevin Lin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @kevinlin0903.
— Staff writer Harrison R. T. Ward can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Hurrison_.