Face masks and interpersonal communication

Ignoring their purpose and irritating things about them, I find I quite like face masks. They are providing rich insights into social norms.

Since about one-half of the face is covered by a mask, people are giving off less information. Their cognitive and emotional signals are weaker, semiotically dimmer. There is less to process.

For me this is pleasant. I now focus more on people’s eyes, and subjectively this is easier for me, less intense, even less stressful. I enjoy talking with people more than before.

I am a bit hard of hearing so maybe I have tended to look at people’s mouths too much. Maybe eyes are just a better thing for me to look at than mouths. Surely, simply the reduced signal of a half-face compared to a whole-face is a big factor. Face masks provide a sort of graphic white space that enhances the elements we get to see.

Also, a face mask hides one-half of my face. People actually seem more friendly to me. Maybe my mouth looks bad and they are treating me differently? Or maybe they like the reduced overall graphic landscape as much as I do. We are like Japanese rock gardens communicating even more through deliberate sparseness.

Art changes how we see. So does technology. Face masks are an old technology, but like any clothing or covering they can also be thought of as a kind of artwork, especially while they are still relatively new to us. We remember how it used to be; and can still reliably compare how it is today to that.

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