Masks make strangers scarier, which is bad

Before talking to strangers, typically there is some sort of non-verbal facial interaction inviting the conversation. When most of your face is covered, that becomes harder. Throw in muffling the voice, and just conversing becomes harder, especially if the speakers have different accents.

Kristen and Annie, two strangers I just met at the Boise airport while writing this piece, agreed. “You can’t tell if they want to talk to you,” said Annie. “It’s much harder” to start a conversation with a stranger when wearing masks, said Kristen. We were all eating and so unmasked, and had a pleasant chat about everything from child-rearing to Gavin Newsom.

Keeping away strangers is part of the appeal of masks. One New York Times reporter wrote that a virtue of masks is that “they can keep that too-chatty neighbor at bay or help the introvert hide in plain sight.”

“It has been such a relief to feel anonymous,” one professor said . “It’s like having a force field around me that says ‘don’t see me’.”