This short NYT piece laments the loss of eye contact in modern life. As a former Brooklyn resident, the complaint certainly resonates. Particularly in public places, people look up, down, to the side -- anywhere but directly at someone else. Eye contact is indeed one of the "casualties of modern life."
There are related casualties, some of which profoundly affect public speech. People seem less and less comfortable with and attuned to physical displays and contacts. Traditionally, one of the unique benefits of public spaces is that they made it more difficult to avoid or ignore speakers and messages. But with the rise of personal technologies, absent-presence (or present-absence) now seems common in public spaces. People traverse public ways encased in technological bubbles, complete with their own personal soundtracks. They are more difficult to jar, cajole, impress, distract, reach. To be sure, people have always been somewhat uncomfortable with physical and tangible speech and contention. But that very discomfort was an asset to speakers who otherwise could not be seen or heard. Virtual is increasingly the norm. It is a comfortable cocoon where only the speech we invite comes in. In "networked" public spaces, eye contact is not the only -- or even the most significant -- casualty.