Annie Vainshtein, writing about the loss of social smiling, suggests that “[a]s we ease into a paradigm shift for the way we make nonverbal connections with people, there will likely be misfirings and confusion, but also, perhaps, some room for experimentation”; and I couldn’t help but wonder whether or not it might broaden people’s notions of what social interaction is like vis-à-vis, say, autistic people — and then it turned out that Vainshtein actually thought to include an autistic person in her piece.

For some people, the potential for that shift has some elements of relief. For Fabo JaNecko, the degree of social privacy behind the mask has been a welcome transition for other reasons.

“As an autistic person, it’s great not to have the pressure to smile and interact with people when I pass them,” said JaNecko, 21, who lives in Oakland and works at a program for adults with developmental disabilities. “Usually in public I ‘mask’ so neurotypicals think I’m normal — but now the rest of the world has to literally mask.”

Me, I don’t mind the casual, passing acknowledgment of other people; it just tends to be an upnod (with mirrorhsades hiding an implied eye contact), maybe along with raised eyebrows depending upon the person and the circumstance.

For sure, it would be nice if people overly-reliant on smiles broadened their understanding of what counts as meaningful gestures of social lubrication, hopefully beyond simply relying even more upon eye contact. Vainshtein bothering to cast a wide net here makes me more sanguine about the possibility.