I’ve read a number of articles such as the one quoted from the Observer (though not, I confess, that one, yet), and agree that it’s something to keep an eye on, but it often feels like those writers are watching from the sidelines and not getting involved in what’s happening amongst the early adopter community.
The use of digital music (iPods et al) has led to the birth of services like audioscrobbler, which, while providing a personal service, are inherently social in their desire to observe trends, and connect fans. In the world of video gaming the tendency for several years now has been to find ways that players can interact with other human players. Witness the recent involvement of sci-fi author (and digital rights activist) Cory Doctorow in a book party based within an MMORPG as evidence that these are becoming serious communities.
One key thing that all of these creations could lack is true physicality, but as a recent Guardian report about live music indicates, when music fans meet online they usually seem to want to meet in person, and that’s one of the reasons for the bouyant live music scene at present. I suspect that such behaviours will increasingly be transportable to other areas of life.
There can also be a danger of producing communities that are still more self-selecting and insular than those we currently build for ourselves, but I’ve been surprised by the variety of people I’ve seen connected by eg. their love of a single band.
What is needed from the writers of these sorts of reports is not a “woe is me, the old ways are passing away” attitude, but a more constructive engagement with new forms of community and new technologies. We technologists do need more input and more engagement in order to really tailor our strategies to support and enhance community but ill-informed “it’s all about individualism” diatribes aren’t too helpful.