I understand what skeptics are getting at when they talk about a hand-shake being more 'human' than meeting people online. But we have to remember that without the internet, most of the people who are onlne chatting, sharing and expressing themselves would be sitting at home in their own little worlds watching (mostly bad) TV. Thats not just shy people. Thats everybody.
The internet is a forum and a meeting place for anyone with access, and it 'exists' (for want of a better word) in our individual homes, sittings rooms and bedrooms. Soon we will all be carrying it around in our pockets. Anything that brings us together in our stratified, contemporay societies is a healthy thing.
The future? I see the internet as a potentially significant tool in bringing real human communities together. The technology will only bind them in unique ways. A tool that allows anyone on earth to meet other people at an ideas level is a very powerful, and potentially revolutionary one indeed. Only time will tell.