27 Comments

  1. Actually, they’re talking to each other on the phone to avoid the ‘mask muffle’. Not sure if they’re still 6 ft apart, but maybe that’s just so they fit in the panel with enough detail visible.

  2. I agreee with Lisah: lines on the faces show that they are still wearing masks. All the phones do is act as direct microphones & speakers, so that their voices (which don’t carry 6 feet through the masks) are still audible at that distance.

  3. I’ve been wearing various masks for 6 months just like literally billions of others. They don’t interfere with speech unless you get one that really, really doesn’t fit. You might have to raise your voice slightly.

    I mean, do people think surgeons have to use hand signals to direct the rest of the surgical team? Well-made masks don’t block speech.

    What the pandemic made me aware of is that certain (American) women have been so socialized never to raise their voices, when speaking to adult males (I speculate), that they are inaudible when wearing masks, even if I beg them to speak up. (I’m slightly hard of hearing.) I notice it most in adolescent/early adult females.

  4. Kilby has it and I agree with Carl, they don’t really muffle speech that much. We have begun classes at my university and I have a classroom that usually holds 30 (we are keeping it to 15 to be physically distant), yet can be heard without issue all the way to the back. Some of the students, however, have to be encouraged to speak up, but that is often the case, mask or no mask.

  5. I’m also in agreement with the interpretations started by Lisah: – They still have their masks on ; -They are still standing well separated, though the observation angle makes this not perfectly clear. – But the masks do not overly muffle the close-up speaking into their phones, so that is what they are doing and that is the joke.

    Hey, they could have started texting!

  6. I think that Kilby is right about the phones amplifying their voices, but I also agree that there’s something very odd about the way the faces and masks are drawn in the bottom panels.

    The characters were in profile above, and now it’s a front view, but no mask I’ve seen or used allows that much nose and mouth detail to show.

    I don’t follow this comic, so I don’t know the artist’s habits, but Bill’s comment especially makes me wonder if the colorist or artist got lazy, and just colored the mask areas white on stock face art.

  7. However, the lines in the sidewalk in panels 1 and 2 throw some doubt on whether they are still standing the same distance apart. I want to say yes, as the joke seems to depend on that, but the drawing suggests they have stepped closer.

  8. I agree with Carl Fink – texting would have been funnier AND made more sense. If your voice is muffled when trying to speak person-to-person, why would it be clearer person-to-phone-to other phone-to-other person?

  9. Talking is far more efficient than texting and allows for inflections and other clues about context. Talking through a mask to someone more than 6′ distant can get muffled and difficult to discern, particularly outside. Talking into a phone that is an inch or two away is going to be far clearer. If seen countless people pull down their masks to make themselves more clearly heard. I don’t see any conflicts about this situation at all.

  10. >Otherwise, I am quite stumped.

    I’d be stumped if they *weren’t* wearing masks in the last to panels.

    > but no mask I’ve seen or used allows that much nose and mouth detail to show.

    What detail? Those are shadows and crease lines.

    Being the anti-social person I don’t think the mask muffle isn’t a problem; it’s an unanticipated bonus.

  11. I have a neighbor who is mostly deaf, has lost the hearing aid in one ear, and speaks English as a second language. With masks on, neither one of us can understand the other. I suspect we’ll have to re-establish our friendship after Covid. Or maybe when she finds her other hearing aid.

  12. Carl/Targuman: I find that all the masks I’ve used to muffle my speech. Yes, of course if you yell loud enough, you will eventually be heard, but that’s hardly evidence that they don’t interfere with speech.

  13. @WinterWallaby: there’s an effect, but it’s barely noticeable with a good mask, for me as both speaker and listener. I got cloth masks that don’t touch my lips, on purpose. More comfortable, clearer speech.

  14. Carl: I believe that you don’t notice a significant effect, but clearly I and a lot of other people do, for many of the masks that are in common circulation.

  15. I’m reminded of my nephew’s bar mitzvah where the music was so insanely loud, my cousin and I, sitting a couple of feet apart, were texting one another.

  16. Most people don’t realize the extent to which they read lips (or faces) to help understand spoken communication. Even if masks don’t muffle voices at all, they still make it harder to understand.

  17. Arthur – talking on a phone won’t help reading lips and will diminish facial expression reading.

  18. @Wallaby: depends on what “significant” means, i suppose. I do notice an effect with the cloth masks, but I just raise my voice. Of course, I’m a professional speaker, so that might be easier for me than for some.

    OTOH, the disposable three-layers-of-polypropylene masks have no effect on voices I can detect.

    @Arthur: I don’t have any special trouble understanding people on the (voice) phone, and I actually have some hearing loss. (I use my good ear.)

  19. Carl Fink: By “significant” I mean that I and other people have noticed difficulties in communication when wearing masks commonly in use. It’s weird to me that you want to argue that we don’t actually have these difficulties – don’t you think we would know?

    Actually, you seem to be alternating between arguing that people don’t actually have these difficulties, and that they do have these difficulties but it’s only because some people aren’t as good as speaking as you (or because they’re female). That’s a bit more logically sensible, but doesn’t do much to show that much to show that masks don’t interfere with communication. It just goes to show that they wouldn’t interfere with communication if everyone was as good at it as you.

  20. Sorry if I gave that impression. My real point was meant to be that maybe better (thinner, lighter) masks would help, but also to do exactly what you’re doing: to say that this was my experience. I wasn’t meaning to deny your experience.

  21. Robert has trouble with breathing with our masks on. He had me make them first with 3 layers of cotton fabric.

    We finally went out mid May to food shop – last before that was mid March, but he had put in an order to Walmart which came to us FedEx from all over the country – MA to CA over 3 days as local WMs do not deliver or currently have curbside pickup other than for Rx. We needed to get meat items which could not be shipped to us this way and his attempt to get meat from BJs when they offered free delivery on one order resulted only in 7.5 lbs of stew beef (just finally started using it and it is terrible) – they dropped off all the meat items off the delivery as they were out, they offered alternatives – for one of the meat items they were out of they offered a bag ice as an alternative.

    So in mid May terrified on his part we went to the Walmart Neighborhood Market (food, pharmacy, related only) to food shop. He had a plan – we wore our masks and brought plastic sandwich bags to cover our hands (cheaper and easier than gloves to buy more of and actually fit me better than the gloves due to small hands). He sprayed the cart with Lysol we brought with us. I was to push the cart and he would get the items. We filled the car higher than any other cart we have had (even since) and it was the most we every spent on food (except maybe our June trip) – even more than when I would shop for 2 weeks plus Thanksgiving dinner for 12. As we finished and headed to the cashier – he got sick. I could see he looked terrible – but we needed to buy the food or do this again. I sent him to wait in the car while I paid. I had to load it in the car alone. He had to drive home as if someone else drives he gets car sick and we did not want same to be added. We figured out later – after he had slept for hours and I had unloaded the car alone, and then had some dinner – that he had panicked so much, plus the 3 layers of cotton in the mask got him all worked up and his blood sugar DROPPED – we figured this out as he tested when we got home and it was 54 (should have been around 100).

    So now I have the 3 layer masks and he has 2 layer masks. When we have to go since (he has a distorted idea of how much we use and how much we have so food shopping has become a monthly thing now – August trip to be made soon, this time with our van as it has only been driven once plus to the mechanic 4 blocks away for work and needs to be driven. He will eat a larger lunch than normal so his sugar does not drop. I will drink less (non-alcohol of course) with lunch than normal so I won’t need the ladies room while out (or we would have to bring the RV instead for that problem) and now I get the items out and he pushes the cart.

    He still has trouble with the 2 layer masks, but they are better. (Masks are made of leftover fabric from reenacting clothing as they are the only fabrics I know are cotton and not a blend as “plastic” fabrics cannot be worn for reenacting.)

  22. You can talk and breathe and understand people perfectly fine with masks on. And if you couldn’t, then being on a phone wouldn’t make a difference. Comic makes no sense.

  23. Carl Fink – I would question if it’s that young women aren’t as willing to raise your voice or if you’ve got more hearing loss in the upper registers. Most of the people I know who lost their hearing could hear lower voices for longer than higher ones.

    Meryl A – if you can manage it, silk might be something to consider. It’s very breathable and cool. But I find that just going from two to three layers makes a huge difference.

  24. Thank you Christine, but we have working from my stash to avoid going out and shopping as much as possible – once a month for food is exhausting enough with him (yesterday we did our run for August so we had gone a month and a half, and Walmart supermarket did not have any bags other than their blue shopping bags to buy – they ran out at 2pm, sometimes have a mess in a vehicle including lots of bags has a purpose). We tried ordering food and other items earlier in the stay at home – and it works no better now than it used to.

    Since I have 2 dressers filled with cut fabric yardage plus the fabric on the bolts in the basement, I am hoping to stick to our stash and get rid of some of it.

  25. I’ve found that surgeon’s masks don’t muffle voice, but they don’t seal real well, either. KN95a seal and they muffle somewhat. I recently got a good commercial cloth mask which seals well, is comfortable, and doesn’t touch my mouth. I was told it muffles my voice more than the KN95 did, and I’d have to speak louder.

    Despite that, I agree that the comic would have been better if they texted.

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