[A]fter 40 years of technological change it just takes as long as it did in the 1960s to fly from New York to London--and that's basically like complaining in 1890 that it was no technological change: horses don't run any faster. That's--horses don't run any faster and there are probably not many ways in which we can make them run sufficiently faster to make much of a difference. But the point is the horses basically at some point are being removed from the fundamental means of transportation and replaced by something entirely different. I would think that one of the things that is coming is the death of distance. We are basically no longer having to use airplanes in order to communicate for most of human needs. I'm saying most; I'm not saying all. I fully well understand that at times it's very important to have that personal contact, to share that beer, to have that meal together. But by and large I think what we are going to see is that communications as human interactions are going to be digitalized to a degree that we can't even imagine yet. Except when you are looking at two kids in high school sitting next to one another and instead of talking, they are texting. – Joel Mokyr on Growth, Innovation and Stagnation (2013)
I think this is exactly right. It's commonly said that in technology when you have a new paradigm, the first iteration is basically a naïve port from the old to the new. For example, MS Word was the V1 and basically ported over a lot of the concepts about printing from the pre-web era while a Google Docs/Quip are the V2 which enable communication around the documents. Facebook is the V1 of social networking and Zuck basically took the Harvard College Facebook and put it online.
In many respects, Zoom/WebEx/Hangouts is basically a naïve port from in-person to asynchronous so when most people read Mokyr's quote, the instinct is to compare it to the status quo today. Am I really going to want the digitization of grabbing a beer with a friend?
Instead, I read the quote as more of a prediction that our asynchronous communication tools are going to get better which will unlock all these interactions that we can't quite see right now from our Zoom-centric vantage point. For some ideas about what these interactions might look like, take a look at Miko and The Technician.