The end of virtual backgrounds - scenery to reformat the mind

Vehicle spray during a bumper-to-bumper commute was never a highlight of modern living. Home office comes along and soon enough we’re crawling up the 4 walls, yearning for the chance to escape the confines. Zoom, with its virtual backgrounds could teleport us to far-away lands, until the point when it no longer could. The reality is, we need diverse backdrops to stimulate and satisfy us – and we need them now!

Instagram datasets will hold a trove of insights into what we like to look at. Trending themes aside and without data to rank patterns, the rule would seem to be that uncommon sights have appeal, nature is inspiring and associations between locations and pleasures also plays a significant role. Associations are key to our desires to explore. A shot of downtown Osaka, has us thinking of food and urban vibe more than office buildings. The same with an image of La Saulire - we think ski, lunch and a sunny Courchevel terrace. These are the pre- or post-trip emotions, anticipating or reflecting on visual drama. The real drama occurs live.

What these actual experiences do to us live, is make us stop. We involuntarily stop and stare and disconnect with everything else that we have been preoccupied with. These pauses reset our minds, temporarily wiping away what existed before and replacing it with a type of capitulation to what is before us – being dominated and taken over by the visual moment. Familiarity doesn’t do this, and we can all testify to how few moments we have experienced jaw-dropping, visual moments over the last 12 months. It is the unfamiliar which continually does this. It could be a striking piece of urban architecture, a rock formation, the timeless flow of a river, trees bending in the wind. But it is rare (if ever) that we have those pauses where we are captivated by visual stimulation during our day-to-day lives, instead we need to go and find them. 

These moments also develop varying responses, and we can be affected differently by the ocean and the mountains. Mountains can offer a sense of protection through grandeur. Perversely, our lives in the mountains are anything but risk-averse, but they are timeless, (geologically at least) little changed during our lives and being immersed in them gives a sense of protection and comfort, possibly driven by refuge from elements in huts and hotels, around roaring fires. The complexity and detail of the jagged peaks contrast markedly to the sea experience. The reality is that there is nothing really to see on an ocean horizon – a shimmering, slightly curved line of water that you can't see beyond, with few notable focal points. But their lies the appeal, it is the nothingness which is the blank canvas for our imagination. To stretch our vision as far as the curvature of the earth allows, offers us the chance to escape the present, to connect with a vision that lies just beyond our vision – ‘a distant ship smoke on the horizon’ if you like.

Whether it is mountains, ocean, rural or urban, this ability to disconnect with the present through a visual experience offers riches. Professional contacts can be recalled through the geography of the meeting, contextualising the relationship in an altogether more meaningful way. Minds are freed of the daily clutter, reformatted to the present and open to strategize, problem-solve and analyse- to be outside the box. As well as being freer, these minds are also happier. Just as the mountains and ocean horizons show no discernible change over our lifetimes, so they await to dominate our thoughts, once the world starts to travel again.

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