Now that we are destined to live with the novel Corona virus, we need to desensitize ourselves to the situation shown above. It will be a difficult task as our brain is kind of hard-wired to look for emotional expressions on the face of the person standing in front of us.
If the person in question is a stranger, the same exercise becomes an important part of our defense mechanism. If a mask blocks that process alarm bells are set off automatically, without any conscious effort on our part. The conscious brain on the other hand gets busy with modifying the involuntary fear response. Adults, with their years of practice in hypocrisy and diplomacy, somehow manage to avoid social embarrassment. Children start crying.
Why is it so essential to read the non-verbal messages involuntarily displayed on human faces through a plethora of well-defined expressions smiling, frowning, gnashing of teeth etc.? Our natural languages are highly evolved and capable of handling any conceivable emotion.
An enriched language gives us enough opportunities to hide behind clever wordplay and send across messages which are not in sync with our true feelings. Losers use a derogatory term called "hypocrisy" to describe that act. Successful people, however, call the same thing "diplomacy" wherein you ask someone to go to Hell so nicely that he would actually look forward to the journey.
Cultures across the world has come up with ingenious ways of getting a handle on non-verbal expressions. The British has glorified the stiff upper lip attitude and have cleverly associated it with the royalty. Americans, being sellers of freedom and democracy, make it look warm and friendly by pasting a plastic smile across their face. The Far Easterns hide behind poker faces.
Such facial acrobatics have some cognitive overhead even though your practice well. In your face safely hidden behind a mask you can relax a bit. With some practice you may also be able to vent right in front of your boss. Years ago, as a teenager, I read a pulp fiction novel called "Smiling Eyes and Cursing Lips". What sounded downright oxymorons back then, is quite possible now thanks to the pandemic.
Law enforcement agencies across the world have got into a tizzy after Covid-19 masks made one of the oldest and most basic tool of criminal identification dysfunctional. Their rival players, the criminals, are having a more relaxed time by using surgical masks instead of hooded Macintoshes. A certain Mob boss of the States has urged his gang members to wear surgical gloves too, as part of their regular workwear. If a masked and gloved man gets recognized as a responsible citizen, the long pending reversal of the earth's magnetic field must be round the corner too.
From an evolutionary point of view, we humans stand to lose some abilities if we continue to use masks for long. Human face has 43 muscles which can create as many as 1000 distinct expressions. The ill effects are already visible among small children. Incidents of autism have gone up during the lockdowns. Social exposure is important for general brain development. Although there is a quantitative difference between masking and social isolation.