It looks like many of us will be wearing masks in public in the outbreaks of the future (and for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic).
While I don’t love the sense of fear and the walling off and veiling off of human expression that come with masks, there are a few upsides I anticipate for culture (in addition to the health benefits.) Mostly these lie in the normalization of mystery that comes with mask-wearing.
For one thing, masks will greatly hamper attempts by the state to visually surveill citizens. While no silver bullet, masks enhance individual privacy greatly and make people harder to control.
Secondly, by granting privacy and a sense of anonymity, masks may encourage certain boldness and creative expression in people, allowing them to assume new “identities” when out in public. Perhaps a shy person might gain courage to dance, for instance, when behind a mask. We might even see the rise of the masked crusaders we dream about in our movies.
Finally, there will be interesting opportunities for changing flirtation between the sexes. After all, we won’t be able to see each other’s faces to size each other up. It will be as if we are all at a masquerade ball like one of older times. Revealing our full faces may be an act of trust and intimacy or clear signaling of attraction.
Just about all things can be turned around for good, and masks are no exception.