BOISE, IDAHO — After an hour of driving through desolate and beautiful mountains and scrubs and plains and buttes, I finally found civilization on the edge of a small town called Arco.
I pulled into the gas station, relieved. I had been slightly afraid I might run out of gas in the part of Idaho literally called Craters of the Moon because it looks like you’re not on Earth.
As soon as I stepped out of my car to pump gas, the guy at the next pump smiled at me and said “what the heck kind of blue is that?”
My rental car, you see, was a very strange blue color.
Ten minutes later, long after this man, Lynn Bowman, and I had filled our tanks and Lynn’s wife Janet had filled two gas cans, I noticed all the pumps were occupied, and so Lynn and I had to move our cars.
Over those 10 minutes, Lynn told me about his time in Vietnam (he wrote a book about it ), his prowess hunting Elk with a bow, and how he rents out homes in the mountains, but some had burned down in recent fires. Janet told me about her “a**hole” ex-husband and her experiences with Mormons and doctor’s waiting rooms.
It was quite the chat, and it’s the kind of experience I have constantly. A huge part of my job is talking to strangers, and even my personal life is filled with talking to strangers. I love it.
I talk to strangers in bars, strangers at gas stations, strangers at coffee shops, strangers on the sidewalk, strangers outside church. It helps me understand and explain the world, but it also just puts me in a good mood and makes life more fun.
When I got back into my very blue rental car, I laughed because my phone resumed the podcast I had been listening to: The Art of Manliness, in which the host was interviewing Joe Keohane on his new book, The Power of Strangers: The Benefits of Connecting in a Suspicious World .
“Again and again,” Keohane writes , “studies have shown that talking with strangers can make us happier, more connected to our communities, mentally sharper, healthier, less lonely, and more trustful and optimistic.”
This brought me back to an unpleasant stranger interaction I had, but this one over Twitter.
— Jeff Lewis (@ChicagoPhotoSho) April 19, 2021
Before talking to strangers, typically there is some sort of non-verbal facial interaction inviting the conversation. When most of your face is covered, that becomes harder. Throw in muffling the voice, and just conversing becomes harder, especially if the speakers have different accents.
Kristen and Annie, two strangers I just met at the Boise airport while writing this piece, agreed. “You can’t tell if they want to talk to you,” said Annie. “It’s much harder” to start a conversation with a stranger when wearing masks, said Kristen. We were all eating and so unmasked, and had a pleasant chat about everything from child-rearing to Gavin Newsom.
Keeping away strangers is part of the appeal of masks. One New York Times reporter wrote that a virtue of masks is that “they can keep that too-chatty neighbor at bay or help the introvert hide in plain sight.”
“It has been such a relief to feel anonymous,” one professor said . “It’s like having a force field around me that says ‘don’t see me’.”
Even if you think outdoor, vaccinated, distanced masking makes sense (it doesn’t), you have to admit that there is a serious cost to regular masking: we get to know our neighbors and other strangers less. As Keohane argues, fewer conversations with strangers means less trust and less peace.
Author: Timothy P. Carney
Source: Washington Examiner: Masks make strangers scarier, which is bad