An Israeli industrial designer has created the world’s first “Social Gas Mask” whose sleek space-age form allows for less hindered swapping of facial expressions. In a crisis (which is pretty much any time a gas mask is needed), who wouldn’t want better visible access to other people’s faces?
The new mask is being pitched as something that won’t impede your regular activities. Masked models are shown cuddling on their couch and checking email on their smartphones.
Got friends coming over to watch the newest episode of Tyrant? Why let looming chemical warfare get in your way?
Zlil Lazarovich was inspired to take up the project after her childhood experiences during the 1991 Gulf War: “I remember the alarms, the panic, my parents putting on my mask and sitting for long periods of time in the chemically sealed room we prepared at home,” she said.
“These events and memories, which are not unique to myself but are also a part of the collective memory of all Israelis, made me realize how important it is to maintain a sense of normality even in the most stressful times.”
Gas masks have been around since World War I. Primitive respirators were in use by the 1800’s, designed to protect against inhalation of gaseous chemicals or airborne particulates and used mostly by miners and those who worked with chemicals. Mask design has largely been unchanged except for improvements to materials and filtering devices. The clunky contraptions conceal the user’s face, which – in turn – limits communication by literally “masking” facial expressions.
Lazarovich is trying to change the way people perceive gas masks by removing the fear factor. Social Gas Mask is designed to offer “an empowering image and a positive experience”. Its large vision panels, side filters and small mouth opening facilitate better communication between individuals spending time together in stressful situations.
“The wide, cheeky shape of the filters gives the impression of a wide, healthy and happy face instead of a long, skeleton-like one,” she added.
Nonverbal behavior is the most crucial aspect of communication. After several studies on nonverbal communication, Dr. Albert Mehrabian, author of Silent Messages, concluded that 7% of any message is conveyed through words, 38% through certain vocal elements, and 55% through nonverbal elements – including facial expressions. Enhancing the possibilities for nonverbal communication is at the core of Lazarovich’s design.
The mask is conceptual and there are no plans to commercially produce it at this time. Interesting improvements to an old piece of technology, for sure. But a crying shame it’s functionality is still necessary.
Images from Zlil Lazarovich