This is something I’ve been wondering about myself, and Anil Dash sums it up excellently:
bq.. Once, there was fairly frequent interaction with people who weren’t your intended target of conversation. Speaking to a receptionist before getting to a business contact comes to mind, and its certainly an example that’s not going away any time soon, but the more casual conversations are the ones that intrigue me. Your friend’s younger sister who always ran to answer the phone first, the roommate of a person whom you spoke to frequently, your parents screening your phone calls when you were grounded; Those unexpected encounters with people often yielded extraordinary results.
[..] So I lament the serendipity that’s been lost. Many of the most interesting and exciting things that happen to us happen by chance, and now most of the time when I talk to someone, I do it by getting in touch with that specific person. There are of course the rare times when someone is using a computer that belongs to another person and that entry on my buddy list yields a surprise when I send a message. Or a few times I’ll call a cell phone and it will have to get handed to its rightful owner before the conversation can begin. But those pass-through moments used to be commonplace, and used to result in the incidental creation of social capital.
We might not notice that those social intermediaries are gone, but I suspect when we recall in the future the anecdotes that result from them, the kids who are born today won’t understand how a phone number used to belong to a family or a group of people or how, in the days before email, a message might pass under the wary gaze of a few unanticipated recipients. An “address” used to refer to a place, not a person.
>> “Anil Dash: Obsolescence of Happenstance”:http://www.dashes.com/anil/2004/01/11/obsolescence_of
Around here in the third world in the upper classes (read well-off) where everyone in the family has a cell phone, things are moving towards a society where you only met those whom you were intending to meet. Well not really, at least in Karachi. Still, the prevalent social stigmas over here make it hard to strike up a conversation with strangers in public spaces.
Once you leave school, most people never again are in a similar situation, where they are put together with a whole bunch of _diverse_ people who they have to associate with. While some dislike this, it’s a great experience which _in some cases_ builds up a strong sense of community. As we tend to move more and more down our own seperate paths in the modern world, this sense of community is going to keep decreasing.
The digital world does provide a different sort of “community”:http://directory.google.com/Top/Computers/Internet/Cyberspace/Online_Communities/?tc=1, but those are a lot more fluid. You cannot hold on to digital friendships, they are by necessity fluid and ever-changing. See “Everything in Moderation”:http://www.everythinginmoderation.org/, a weblog about online communities.