When watching the following video, my interest was peaked as the company my parents operate is one of the largest facemask manufactures in the world. The video raises an interesting question: Why doesn’t Western culture wear face masks to prevent sickness.
If one was a rational decision maker it would be clearly determined that sickness is objectively bad as it threatens the universally value sapiens attribute to life. Therefore, any device or practice that optimizes for securing or extending life can be viewed as providing instrumental value. This value proposition is the same that we achieve by working out or eating veggie smoothies. Based on these assumptions, it is reasonable to expect that wearing masks, which are highly effective at reducing transmission of airborne sickness, would be acceptable.
As we know, sapiens are highly irrational decision makers and therefore arbitrary social pressures that optimize for other goals (instead of an assumed goal for survival) distort judgement.
Given this irrational context, is there may be room to engineer demand for face masks in the Western context? This would be one hell of a marketing and branding challenge as one would be required to change underlying social values. This is not impossible, just difficult, and if executed upon would explode the product segment.
Being a student of history, I know that this was achieved for the sport of jogging. In the 1950’s jogging was seen as a pretentious activity for extreme eccentrics. Social taboos associated the exercise activity as being a mix between self-indulgent, elitist, and patronizing. It was essentially the modern-day equivalent of meditation, owning a sensory deprivation tank or practicing Cryotherapy. Over time the activity was normalized as key influencers indorsed the activity. As more people adopted the practice, initial social pressures that discouraged “being different” diminished. The Western social zeitgeist now flopped on jogging- it was now socially unacceptable to NOT engage in jogging.
Determining where the critical juncture occurred is difficult to determine. Where was the tipping point that changed the social perceptions of running? What were the causal factors? Could a similar outcome could be replicated for face masks?