Some years ago, when videoconferencing software was just getting off the ground, you'd hear chatter about how these new technologies were going to radically reduce the need for people to fly around the country holding meetings. I don't hear that much about it anymore.
I'm participating in more teleconferences and videoconferences these days. Tomorrow morning I'll be part of a four- (or five?) way telephone conversation that'll be turned into a podcast on the Talis site. But on Wednesday I'll fly to DC for a meeting of librarians and some of the publishers associated with the DC Principles. Next week I'll be in DC again participating in a library focus group for the Society for Scholarly Publishing. And two weeks after that, I'll be back in DC once more as a member of one of NLM's Long Range Planning Panels. Oh, and somewhere in the middle of that I'll be in Chicago for the MLA Board of Directors meeting. Throughout it all, email and IM will keep me in touch with what's going on in my library.
At the same time that communications technologies have become more sophisticated and ubiquitous, physical travel continues to be cheap and relatively easy. And all things considered, people would rather be in the same room when they've got work to do together. A teleconference or a videoconference is a useful way of getting work done when it's not convenient or affordable to get together physically (I participate in a bi-weekly teleconference for the versioning project because we're scattered across the US and UK), but it's not the preferred method and it's not an equal substitute.
The principle here is that new technologies rarely replace older technologies. They open up new possibilities and new options. The challenge is to shift our thinking in ways that recognize the particular advantages of both the new and older technologies so that we're making the best use of each. It's foolish to spend a lot of time in an in-person meeting distributing reports or making non-interactive presentations of data -- that can be done much more effectively electronically. On the other hand, the social interaction that leads to effective working relationships is always best done in person.
The mistake we too often make is not paying attention to these differences. Email or IM are not the same as telephone calls or conversations in person. Not that one is better or worse in general -- just that they all have different nuances and they're all better or worse in different ways. We're best off when we learn to take the best of advantage of all of the tools and modes that are available to us.