I remember doing a lot more grinding and waiting in WoW. From what I've heard, other games had even more. On the surface these things are bad. After all, grinds are repetitive and who likes waiting? But there are benefits to them.
Waiting around is a time for guilds to bond. There's not much time to chit chat during raids; there are more immediate concerns to be handled. Sure, there are a few minutes before pulls while you buff and summon and all that, but are you going to be friends from talking for five minutes a couple nights a week? Are you going to feel any loyalty? I doubt it. By my own experience, that chit chat is annoying. A handful of people who knew each other before talk about stuff no one else understands and it can be alienating. It ends up being "I wish we'd start so they would shut up."
Grinding on its own isn't very social. However if a grind is long enough and based on mass killing, it encourages grouping up. You get a few DPS and maybe a healer to go commit genocide. It's low-key so you can chat and do the sort of numberless theorycraft that can do a surprising amount to open people's minds to the mechanics of the world: "What if we used shockwave when those spawn and then they'll be easier to bladestorm?" "Really, those can be stunned? I didn't know that."
The activity itself isn't much fun, but it's a time to gather and talk. Think of it as the barn-raising of MMOs. Get together and build something and eat pie while the younguns try to hook up and make more younguns. Maybe that last part of the analogy only works in Goldshire.
So what killed boring stuff in MMOs? Maybe it was the antisocial people. They couldn't have fun with people despite the activity. They wanted to log in, get their pixels, and log out without having to deal with other people any more than necessary.
But you say "Isn't this really because people like being able to get things done in a short amount of time?" Maybe. But I wonder, would people be willing to spend more time if they were with people they socialized with more? Sure, there are the log in for an hour twice a week people, but why structure everything around them? Why are all the instances short and all the grinds based on an hour of dailies here and there? I remember people farming in guild groups or waiting for PUGs to form and talking along the way. I joined my first guild while waiting for a ZF group to start.
As I was digging through screenshots to find some for GIMP to grind up into a banner, I stumbled across some very old ones. They were of a few guildies and me on my warlock in Darkwhisper Gorge. We were farming the eye of shadow. I don't recall if we were farming it for a guildy in the group or if we were just farming as a group. Either way, I can't imagine that anymore. What could we possibly need to farm that we cannot do alone?
It's all soloable. Sure, these mobs were soloable, but they were tough enough that a group was appreciated and we were still in a mindset that farming was more than just a solo activity between raids; it was part of what guilds did. I won't pretend we didn't mine solo or hunt some mobs solo, but there was much more group activity outside of raids and instances. The bugs in Silithus used to be elite. Soloable, but still tough enough that it was smart to bring help. Part of the rep included summoning outdoor mini-bosses, which we'd pull together groups for, sometimes entire PUG raids.
These days I almost laugh when people group up outside instances. LFM TFA/cit? Heh. Noobs, learn2solo. That strikes me as wrong. These are supposed to be multi-player games, MMORPGs, and yet increasingly we demand the ability to solo. We push away any hint of reliance on others. Then when we join a PUG we wonder why everyone is so unreliable. We try to raid and wonder who recruited these disloyal idiots.
The other extreme was certainly bad, waiting hours for a spawn and needing a group at almost all times. But this extreme might not be all that much better. Why play online if we're going to play it as a single-player game?
Are we too antisocial to pass the time talking? Are we in such a rush that everything must be able to be done right now? Are we replacing slow-cooking with microwaves and losing all the flavor?
Plastic isn't easy
9 hours ago