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How has the year of masks changed the way we communicate?

26th August 2021 By Lucy Webber
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The government’s announcement in July about the abolishment of mandatory face coverings, excited the nation as we have moved into the fourth and final stage of the roadmap out of lockdown.

Faces disguised behind all manner of face masks have been a sight many thought would soon come to an end, but as the pandemic raged on, we saw their presence grow stronger. Now the option to wear one at all is down to each one of us and a new war rages on. The war between the difference of opinions, where some people believe masks should still be mandatory in public spaces, and the opposition that masks should be scrapped altogether.

Generation Z are growing up with what’s called the ‘Coronavirus pandemic shift’, as the ‘new normal’ takes over not only the nation, but the world.

There’s a common trend throughout generations, that each one lives through a significant event in their lives. The Silent Generation was born into the Great Depression. The baby boomers are notably known for being born post WW2. Generation X grew up in the end of the Cold War. Millennials are known for the Great Recession, and now, Gen Z.

160 people from the Gen Z generation took part in my Instagram story poll that was posted shortly after the announcement of face masks becoming voluntary for the nation.

The poll revealed 43% of zoomers said yes, as opposed to 57% who stated they will not wear a mask in public spaces. When asked further why, a common answer was how annoying they are and more notably, the barrier they create for communication.

With the germ deflecting properties aside, are masks really acting as a barrier between meaningful communication?

Since our earliest days, humans have been incredibly attuned to reading facial expressions as part of our communication with others. The mouth plays a significant role in communication, alongside this, many may depend on keen observation of a speaker’s mouth to employ a bit of in-built lip reading to make up for our underperforming ears.

Essentially, the mouth isn’t only a tool for speech it is a tool for listening – the emotion one can put behind a statement is reduced greatly when 70% of the face is covered.

In his 1872 book, ‘The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals’, Charles Darwin explains learning how to read emotions could aid social interaction, reduce misunderstandings and help a group function efficiently and harmoniously for the greater good. Even 148 years later, reading emotions still plays a huge role in how we communicate to one another, and over the past year, the mask has been a detrimental factor in our conversating.

There will be those of us that miss the beaming smile of a close friend and the stretched lips of excitement as they propel into discussion about a topic, and we are likely the ones who will welcome the end of the mask era.

However, research from a Polish study has also showed, ‘In summary, our findings imply that face mask restrictions may not only protect against COVID-19 but also increase the level of perceived self-protection as well as the level of social solidarity and thereby improve mental health wellbeing’.

For many people, wearing a mask liberates them, they may be self-conscious of their teeth or mouth in general and a mask offers a layer of armour between them and their insecurities.

No matter your stance on the use of masks within our society, the effect they have had on the way we communicate is evident, and with the continued use of masks this impact may still linger.

However, the resilience of the public has maintained throughout this pandemic and at the end of it all, we will see our smiles again.