People’s Whole Faces · 19 March 2022

As we go to a less restrictive policy on mask wearing, it is interesting to see people’s whole faces.

If you did not already know it, noses and mouths are an integral part to people’s faces. And of course, nobody wants to have them taken away. But that is what we have done for the past two years. We have taken away most people’s noses and mouths. Which has wreaked havoc on our personal facial recognition systems.

If you have not noticed, people have amazing facial recognitions systems. Of course, we have been developing them since we were babies. We start off with just recognizing our parents. Of course, we start off knowing them by their sounds and smells. Then, as we start to see better, we get to know their faces. It is amazing to watch babies as they look up at their parents’ faces. We think they are just looking at them lovingly. But in reality, they are studying those faces. They are preparing their facial recognition systems. Booting them up, so to speak.

By the time we are children, those facial recognition systems are quite sophisticated. We can see people seemingly miles off, and recognize who they are. We can see a rear three-quarter view of somebody’s head, and know who he or she is. We can see somebody’s lone ear and know who the person. It is quite amazing. Of course, it is not all facial recognition. We still recognize people by the way they sound and smell. And we know their walks and mannerisms. Even so, that facial recognition is an important part of knowing who people are.

Which brings me back to masks and losing so much of our faces behind them. Yes, the eyes are windows to the soul. And yes, we can see expressions in those same eyes. But we do not get the whole picture of a person’s face without seeing the whole person’s face. I know. That sounds too obvious, but it is hitting home now that many people are taking off their masks.

There are, of course, some obvious metaphors to taking off masks and showing our true personalities, but I am not thinking about those things at this point. I am just baffled that so many people look so different with their masks off. So many people who I have only seen their eyes look like strangers, even though I have seen the tops of their faces for over a year.

The strangest thing is that my brain has put lower parts of people’s faces onto people’s faces. My brain has matched their eyes and voices and manner of speaking with what I think ought to be their whole faces. And it turns out that my mind has been wrong most of the time. People have looked quite different without masks. Which is no great revelation. But they look so much different than I imagined. Which is an amazing revelation.

I liken this new revelation to last year when we first got back to in-person school. I had seen my students via online means. Which meant that I had no idea how tall they were if I had never seen them before. I marveled that I was wrong about people’s heights when I actually met them in person. I thought the short people were tall and the tall people were short. I got almost everybody’s heights wrong. It was quite disconcerting.

But back to masks. Rather removing them.

I am glad my visions of people’s faces are being replaced with their real faces. It is nice to get that facial recognition software back to seeing people’s real faces instead of filling in the lower halves with imagined faces. It is nice just seeing people’s whole faces again.

© 2022 Michael T. Miyoshi

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