UCI anthropology professor Tom Boellstorff has received an NSF grant to study how individual and group interactions in online virtual worlds during the COVID-19 crisis may impact post-pandemic social relationships. School of Social Sciences / UCI

Tom Boellstorff, UCI anthropology professor, has been awarded a one-year, $195,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to study how COVID-19 has reshaped online social interactions and the role virtual worlds may play in social relationships post-pandemic. An unprecedented number of people have been socializing online due to the coronavirus crisis. Boellstorff and his team will conduct interviews to capture the various ways in which individuals and groups interact in a number of virtual worlds like Second Life, Animal Crossing and Fortnite to gain insight into how these digital societies have been reshaped by, and their impact beyond, the pandemic. “A better understanding of these new digital cultures will have consequences for COVID prevention: what we call ‘social distancing’ is really physical distancing, and successful physical distancing will rely on new forms of social closeness online,” he says. “The research will also provide context to the transformed social lives we will encounter in the wake of COVID-19.”