Alexis Madrigal:

the things we did in our cars reflected the entertainment available. And in the broadcast world, being in your car wasn’t so bad: you listened to the radio for fun at home, so the car was kind of a couch on wheels. (See: drive-in movie theaters.) One system helped support the other.

But the latest network to overspread our country — the wireless electromagnetic one — is just not fully compatible with driving, at least for human brains. In more economic terms, the opportunity cost of car commuting is going up. You can listen to Howard Stern in a car; you can run your business from a train or bus.

Madrigal wonders whether mobile phones and networks could help “tip the scales” to urban living.

It’s interesting to think that mobile devices beget mobile social networks, and that these participatory networks thrive in dense urban spaces.

But Madrigal only compares urban and suburban. What about rural areas and small cities and towns? In some ways, these areas (like where I now live, in Western Mass.) mirror the neighborhoods of bigger cities with dense living spaces and community-oriented living. That’s not to say that Northampton, Mass. is like Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn — it’s nothing like it — but it’s not much like suburban New Jersey, either.