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If people had perfect information — which they could have, if they just told each other what they wanted — we very likely wouldn’t have the disconnect between what people want and what they get.

That sounds a lot like where we are with mask-wearing these days. I’m vaccinated, and highly unlikely to catch or spread the coronavirus. Yet I still wear a mask, even outdoors sometimes — why? Who or what am I protecting?

If I’m running past someone who is wearing a mask, out of politeness to them I’m going to put my mask up. It’s obviously ridiculous. But the fact that they’re wearing a mask suggests to me that they feel that it’s the right thing to do. And I don’t want to signal to that person that I don’t care about their choice or that I think their choice is bad. There’s something that seems kind of confrontational about even passing somebody on the sidewalk who’s wearing a mask when you’re not, and I don’t want to have that confrontation. So I end up doing this thing that I don’t think is actually important; it’s purely signaling deference to another person.

But aren’t you preaching to the converted? Their mask signals that they’re thoughtful, polite and likely vaccinated. It’s hazier when one of you is unmasked: Are they (or you) vaccinated and expressing genuine liberation? Or unvaccinated and expressing, shall we say, independence? The health risk is still negligible. What you really want to know in that moment is, Are you vaccinated? But decorum keeps us from asking directly.

Yeah, it is remarkable how much of a focal point this has become during the pandemic, because it is the single most public thing that you do. It’s like wearing a T-shirt that says something on it — but right now we’re all unsure of what the T-shirt says. Do I put it on or do I not?

Your research concluded that basically 98 percent of all conversations end with at least one person dissatisfied with the length. So why do we even bother?

What we’re finding is that the people who said they wanted to continue a conversation were not the people who felt cut off; they still had a lovely time and left wanting more. It wasn’t so much like they felt rejected. It was more, like, I had a delicious piece of cheesecake and I could have had another — but the one that I had was really great, and so I’m feeling good.