Monday, December 6, 2010

The Third Place

I scored a spot at a velvet chair the color of an eggplant near the fireplace at Starbucks. There were flurries flying outside, and faux-flurry window clings stuck on the doors. I put headphones on and began "work" at Facebook, continuing to my blogroll.  It wasn't 'til I hit my email that I realized I hadn't ever turned on music...I was listening to the indistinct chatter of the 60-or-so people sharing the cafe floor. I clicked into iTunes and lasted 2 songs before deciding that I was missing out on something.

I caught snatches of the professor/student meetings happening on my right and my left. I hadn't spoken a word to any of them except the velvet-chairholder next to me. I knew no one else in the place, but felt little sense of aloneness. I surely wasn't comforted by productivity - for heaven's sake, I was browsing pictures of people that I barely knew, eating an over-expensive sugar cookie painted like a polar bear with a scarf. So...what was so great about this sociable anonymity?

I had sunk into the third place, "a term used in the concept of community building to refer to social surroundings separate from the two usual social environments of home and the workplace. Ray Oldenburg calls one's 'first place' the home and those that one lives with. The 'second place' is the workplace — where people may actually spend most of their time. Third places, then, are 'anchors' of community life and facilitate and foster broader, more creative interaction. All societies already have informal meeting places; what is new in modern times is the intentionality of seeking them out as vital to current societal needs."

Positive:  It was easier to see these strangers as people than if they were next to me on the road, shrouded in his and her own vehicle. Negative:  The fact that no one knew what I was supposed to be accomplishing there did allow me to waste my time and call it "restoring my energy."

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