Want to look smart? Try a credibility bookshelf

Your home is everyone’s business now. But don’t look like you’re trying too hard.


May 4, 2020

Toss out your pantsuits, put aside your Ph.D.’s: In quarantine, the surest way to command expertise is to plop yourself in front of a bookshelf.

Seemingly every BBC (or BBC-aspiring) commentator has set up their Zoom feeds before a stack of books — all in an effort to garner authority in this era of pixelated video streams.

The best “credibility bookcase,” as The New York Times dubbed it, puts form over function: No bright colors, no flashy modern novels — just rows of dull, leather-bound volumes that scream “I went to grad school.”

A Twitter account called Bookcase Credibility has popped up to track — and dish out snark on — the deluge of Zoom bookshelves. A telling review of newspaper columnist Owen Jones’ double-wide shelf:

This a power credibility grab. The double shoulder presentation combines with the upward angling to give Owen the look of a gang boss flanked by a couple of heavies explaining the facts of life to someone. 

Your home is everybody’s business now

A few celebs have thankfully gotten the memo, and there’s a micro-industry devoted to sleuthing out the books that famous people keep on their shelves.

Cate Blanchett, for one, apparently owns all 20 volumes of the Oxford English Dictionary.

Branding goes beyond books: The backgrounds have also become vehicles for plugging Star Wars, United Airlines, and Dunkin’ Donuts.

They’re also laying bare class divides between students at the same school or employees at the same office. While one person might Zoom in from a closet in a desperate bid for privacy, another luxuriates in a million-dollar apartment.

Some experts worry that bosses unconsciously judge your work ethic by the clarity of your webcam or the lighting in your room.

Please don’t eat in the middle of this call 

Backgrounds aside, video conferencing is bringing with it a whole new slate of ethical quandaries: Per Digiday, those audio-only lurkers have become a scourge of Zoom meetings everywhere.

Not to mention — god forbid — the Zoom eaters, whose cereal crunching strikes almost as much fear in our hearts as that viral video of Raven-Symoné cackling between sandwich bites.

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