FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, many social gatherings and relationships have moved online. While that can create stress and uncertainty, a new book by a University of Arkansas professor suggests that there are also positive benefits from adapting communication to new technology.

“We’re interacting more online, which can come with benefits – such that it’s easier to interact with people who are diverse, sometimes, in network settings, because those differences between us are less obvious. They’re less threatening on some level,” said Dr. Brandon Bouchillon, author of the book titled Competence, Presence, Trust and Hyperpersonal-ness.

In the book, he makes the argument that the reliance on online communication brought on by the pandemic has made it easier than ever for people to connect to one another.

“On some level, it’s become a novel idea that the internet and computers aren’t strictly bad for us,” he said.

Bouchillon also believes that online interaction can break down social barriers that might otherwise limit in-person connectivity.

“Specifically, I find that it’s actually easier for people who are withdrawing more heavily during the pandemic to say they trust in the average person and that they feel competent interacting with them face to face,” he said. “Simply because they were working harder using computers to meet new people and interact and learn how.”

However, other professionals still acknowledge that the pandemic has taken an overall toll on people’s mental health.

“We’re still trying to figure out how the pandemic is going to affect our mental health in the long run, but for sure, we know it’s just really bubbled up in a lot of us an increase in anxiety, depression, isolation, and then just worry about our family members,” said Emily Brandt, Licensed Professional Counselor.

Despite this, Bouchillon says he’s still optimistic.

“The main takeaway from this book, I feel, is that all is not lost. We can begin to foster a sense of community that used to exist in America, but hasn’t for some time,” he said.

Competence, Presence, Trust and Hyperpersonal-ness is available now with an expected release date later in January.