I am always astonished, although shouldn’t be, by the capacity of human beings to create the frivolous in the face of the important.

One example arises now almost daily on my island. I have been involved in virtual meetings since the shutdown. In the real world, I would go days without meetings. Now it seems that my schedule is full of them. Who are these folks and where were they before the crisis?

All the online meeting platforms are miraculous. What a time we live in now! The ability for us to be productive or just hear each other’s voice and see each other’s face has been a lifesaver for many people (and I hope many businesses).

And amid all this, someone developed Zoom Backgrounds!

We know what they are – those ubiquitous backgrounds which can hide the mess of our offices or living rooms, or perhaps shield our privacy from the many eyes that the webcam invites in. Some are sensible – a library for instance, or even a coffee shop (although in this age of physical distancing, no one will believe we are sitting in either). Some are fantastical – undersea or outer space landscapes. Some are just plain bizarre – geometric patterns or whirligigs. There is no end to the possibilities, although at some point we wonder where the productivity ends, and the foolishness starts.

MAD magazine predicted just this effect way back in 1957. A short cartoon story created a series of backdrops that could be used for the inevitable future when we had developed picture phones (no one used the word video back then). In it, the article imagined a whole series of uses. Fool your boss – a backdrop of a sickroom covers the baseball game from whence the employee was calling. Fool your friends – a ritzy living room covers up the ramshackle hovel.

The article came with a caveat. Make sure you know what backdrop you have picked. The final picture shows a man trying to put off an unwanted guest by saying that the family is home with the flu. Unfortunately, the background behind him is that of a happy bridge party, the exact image of real life.

Even in our virtual world, we can be too clever for our own good.

[This Post was adapted from a essay originally published on Facebook the day listed above]