A nice article from Tim Harford of the Financial Times, one of the most interesting economists out there (and IMHO there are a few).
So what is happening? To some extent, the same thing that happened to the paperless office. It turned out that all those computers made it easy and cheap to produce a lot of documents. Yes, the documents could in principle have been viewed on screen, but why not print them out?
Similarly, e-mail, internet networking and cheap phone calls have made it easy to maintain a lot of relationships. In principle some of them could be restricted to cyberspace, but how much fun is that? The same e-mail that allows you to maintain a long-distance business relationship also creates demand for more travel as people try to establish those relationships in the first place.
Closer to home, communication technology makes it easier than ever to arrange a drink with friends. Just e-mail a distribution list or post the invitation on your online journal. This spontaneity isn’t much use if your friends are hundreds of miles away.
E-mail and mobile phones aren’t substitutes for face-to-face contact at all. As the economists Jess Gaspar and Ed Glaeser have pointed out, they are complements to it.