David Matsumoto, a psychologist who runs a body-language-training company called Humintell, told me that we might be losing a lot of context if we’re communicating with only our eyes, especially from six feet away. “A lot of the visual cues that you see in normal interaction is that large part of the face from the bridge of the nose down,” Matsumoto said. Without these cues, there’s a much greater chance of misunderstanding. Whether you’re being genuine or sarcastic, for instance, stems from the shape of your mouth when you say it. Even the most expert “smizer” has probably worried that they look mad with a mask on. It’s also harder to develop and maintain social bonds when you’re not talking with your full face. “That’s why we have ‘face-to-face interactions’ and not ‘knee-to-knee interactions,’” Matsumoto said.
If people get fed up with masks, one option might be to use face shields: clear-plastic guards attached to a headband. These at least allow you to see your interlocutor’s face, and for the hearing impaired, they allow for lip-reading. For people working in jobs that require a face covering, face shields might simply be more pleasant to wear all day. “I can imagine that if you were bagging groceries six hours a day that it would be probably much more comfortable to wear a face shield,” says Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at Columbia University.