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  • Anja Puntari

Knowledge Huddle of Grasp Network HOW WILL LIVING WITH MASKS INFLUENCE US?


We can talk about months by now that the use of masks has become a part of everyday life in many different countries. In some countries the use of the masks is obligatory in all public spaces, from offices to public transport. In other countries they are applied only in specific conditions. As European countries begin to open for the summer season after the lockdown, we are all asking ourselves how life will be in the era of the “new normal”.

In the long weeks of the lockdown, newspapers and social media were full of articles and posts in which the debate in favor of or against the use of masks was heating up. Are they needed or not? Do they really prevent the spread of the virus or not? Do they protect the wearer or those around them from infection? The medical-scientific debate was then accompanied by scandals on the acquisition of ineffective and uncertified masks, and also the accusations of corruption of public employees who, in panic, purchased large quantities of masks from unreliable sources, sometimes from unreliable organizations (as happened in the case of Finland). Less has been said about how wearing a mask influences us from an emotional and relational point of view: what kind of behaviors do we act out when we wear a mask, and what effect does it have on our identity? 

Regular use of a face mask is an unusual experience for most of us. In our minds, we imagine it as belonging to the cosmos of medical studies and hospitals, and to occasional Asian tourists who we have seen in the subway. Furthermore, mindful of the fear of terrorist attacks, until recently covering one's face in a public place was considered a critical issue in many Western countries. For example, in France it was forbidden to enter public offices with the face covered, which caused difficulties for some Muslim women. The arrival of Covid-19 made us quickly forget these debates.

At this moment it is difficult to predict how long this moment of abnormality will last, but Grasp Network held a Knowledge Huddle and invited a group of people to reflect and imagine a world where the masks are here to stay (at least for an extended period of time). Maybe not all people will wear them, maybe not all the time, maybe not everywhere. But it could be that wearing a mask will become common practice – for example, while traveling with public transport, while using the metro, when we take an airplane or when we enter crowded places. In this case, the use of masks will have various consequences. So how will the use of masks influence us?

Our behaviors change with the mask

First of all, the use of masks will undoubtedly condition our behavior. Whether I am a cashier at a supermarket or an office clerk or a manager in a company, I will have to reflect on how to communicate effectively when I wear the mask. By wearing it, a good part of our non-verbal communication fails: we only have the eyes and the proxemics of our body available. How can we use them and still communicate in an effective way? How to smile with the eyes, transmit energy to the people around us, how to calibrate the voice? All this is difficult with the mask.

The mask expresses our identity

In addition to affecting our behavior, the mask becomes a part of our identity. It is actually a piece of clothing. Do we use a black or white, colored or flowered mask? Super technical fabric, washable or disposable fabric? Each of these choices expresses a different self. The mask becomes part of our brand and our personality, just like our make-up, our clothing, our haircut. Further: can we freely choose our mask, or do companies impose a style to follow? In fact, the mask becomes part of the work uniform, like the use of a jacket and tie in the office. Will organizations accept only masks of a certain type, chosen either for their technical qualities or for an aesthetic canon?

Therefore, choosing which mask to wear is not an indifferent action.

The mask makes us feel

Lastly, the use of masks also affects our feelings. Clearly, in addition to communicating and protecting us, the mask remains an evident symbol, a visual warning, of the danger of contagion. As long as we wear the masks, we will constantly remember that the danger of contagion exists, that the era of abnormality is not over. It is very clear that this perspective arouses a range of different emotions in us: a sense of fear, restlessness, irritation, but also serenity and a sense of security in those who feel protected by their mask.And you, how do you feel when you use the mask or see people with masks around you?



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GRASP network is an officially registered non-profit organisation in Austria