Late last year, the world (except probably Japan) would not have imagined that in a few months, they would not be able to see full faces in public. And yet, now most people are buying, and some people are making their own cool masks at home.
Over the last three months, I’ve on occasion thought about the design of masks. The N-95 mask (N in N-95 is for ‘Not resistant to oil’), has been recommended by some as being one of the better masks to defend against the Chinese virus.
In the world outside, we see everything from simple synthetic masks to the light blue surgical ones, fancy ones with respirators, and even handkerchiefs and dupattas being used as masks.
However, one problem with everyone wearing masks and makeshifts (kerchiefs, etc.), will be a possible deterioration of social fabric and societal behaviour. Because faces aren’t visible!
It is possible that society as we know it could slowly tend to become a bit colder and indifferent. Because social connects aren’t quite the same when you can’t see a full face and a smile. On occasion, we don’t recognize known people because they are wearing a mask. And far more often than that, a ton of non-verbal communication, the grins and smiles, all get ‘masked’. The inability to see faces could affect the quality of communication and connect. This could affect us as individuals and as a world considerably over the coming months.
Feel any difference when you see each Mona Lisa?
Let our masks not make us more cold and indifferent than we were.
The alternative: The only one I could think of, are Transparent masks.
Ashley Lawrence above, a college student studying education for the hearing impaired, designed this mask to help them lip read and follow expressions. Similarly, a few others around the world, a nurse included, have designed transparent masks in recent months. The current option of plastic for a mass market solution however, would be disastrous for the environment.
In labs, there seem to be some natural alternatives like transparent wood. But at the moment, they might be far from ready for deployment.
Q: How can we design an affordable mask that
(i) protects us from the virus,
(ii) doesn’t harm the environment, and
(iii) helps retain quality of social interactions and connect (by being transparent)?