At any given time, there's usually one canonical form of hang-out spot, and it changes along with the zeitgeist. Near the end of mid-century cocooning, young people began taking over the drive-in restaurant. It got converted from a hive-like, daytime Nighthawks at the Diner, into a place for teenagers to go cruisin'.
Hanging out in public spaces would rise toward its peak during the late '80s, and much of this activity took place in malls (not "shopping" malls since most people didn't buy anything, and only went to hang out). Malls were everything the New Urbanists now wish for, all within a single building. No vehicle traffic, walkable paths, human-scale corridors rather than intimidating wide-open plazas, people-sized shops with storefronts placed right against the walkways, lush plant life, bodies of water, a wide variety of places to go (from professional services to craftsmen to merchants to the food court to a library or church branch), all age groups including the elderly, and so on.
The shift toward cocooning killed off malls during the '90s (along with video game arcades, and other similar places). But it's not as though nothing replaced them at all -- they just weren't as public, bustling, and mixing-it-up. They even enjoyed an initial rise in the late '80s and early '90s, right as malls were about to go into decline, so that their replacements were poised to hit the ground running.
And those would be bookstores -- the big bookstores like Barnes & Noble and Borders. That was the closest you could get to a mall atmosphere in the '90s and early 2000s. They were not as big, had less differentiation and variety (the magazine racks, the cafe, the music room, etc.), there was little to no landscaping, and the clientele were more middle-class and, well, bookish. But you could still wander around with a group of friends for awhile, and there was enough variety of people and places within the store to make it worthwhile.
Sometime in the early 2000s, though, the bookstores got taken over by the people-watchers, an extreme form of cocooners. These are not just people who watch other people, but who insist on it going no further than watching. They came there to plop down in the limited chairs or on the floor in order to observe real people in real life, though if those people actually tried to strike up a conversation with them, the people-watchers would feel awkward and get creeped out. "I mean... I just came here to watch..." -- not to interact, got it.
Bookstores soon turned into a hive of people-watchers who were physically close but mentally disconnected. It was off-putting to walk in and see area after area being squatted by anti-social people-watchers. We're outta here. After normal people began leaving, the bums and weirdos started moving in, and lord knows the awkward people-watchers weren't going to be able to keep them away.
Fortunately, there was a replacement already on the rise to take the place of the now-fragmented scene at the bookstore -- the coffee shop! Chain or indie did not matter, except for branding / signaling purposes. All of them were even smaller than bookstores, had less variety of things to do, more homogeneous customers, and still no plant life or water inside. But, it was still a public space with people who did not know each other, as much bustling activity as a small shop could hope to offer, and provided places to take a load off and shoot the bull with a group of friends.
Sometime in the early 2010s, though, the free-wheeling feel (such as it was) of the coffee shop had gone missing. It felt like a different atmosphere, in the same way that bookstores felt 10 years before -- those damn people-watchers. It's far worse this time around because now everybody and their mom brings a laptop / tablet / smartphone with them to the coffee shop while they people-watch.
They've made it more obvious still that their goal is not to interact with others -- they're not even looking up from their stupid screens most of the time -- but merely to occupy space next to other human space-occupiers, so that they don't feel totally alone and pathetic. If you thought Borders looked like a hive of squatters, just drop into a Starbucks these days. It is nothing more than a campus computer lab.
I quit going to coffee shops last fall, whereas that used to be a daily activity. Too lame now, not to mention that as normal people bail, it has opened up a niche for bums, weirdos, and faggots just like the bookstores did before.
Unlike the last round, though, there is no alternative format that has been slowly rising during the 2000s that can now be used as an escape pod for the coffee shop refugees. You can't get any smaller, limited, and homogeneous than the local coffee shop. Now there is no type of store where you can congregate away from the people-watchers -- cocooners have totally taken over public space.
Libraries looked like they might have been a way out for awhile. But those were more of an off-shoot of the bookstore-as-hangout trend. I remember the two main libraries at college being popular hangout spots, one being quite boisterous. But that was before laptops, tablets, and smartphones, which the library could not defend itself against. Now they too look like some insectoid computer lab. "Look at me, I'm not looking at you." Rampant status-striving with their glowing Apple logos, too.
Good for the New York Public Library for preserving several tables as "laptop-free zones," not that anyone is using them, the dorks. But they're the New York Public Library and can flex a little muscle against the laptop swarm of people-sitting-by-ers. The average public library and college library have completely given in, working to turn every alcove into a little laptop cave.
Nowhere to run to, man. This decade we're in for the lowest depths of the cocooning phase. No public hang-outs whatsoever. On the bright side, though, at least we can't sink much further, and the cycle will reverse course after bottoming out during the 2010s.
By all signs, some heavy shit is gonna go down in the 2020s, but anything to stir us awake from this social and cultural coma.