Image: Caiaimage/Justin Pumfrey
Whether you want to connect with others in a social setting or simply read your book in a public hang out, the “third place” or “third space” is something we all need for our social and mental wellbeing.
What is a third place?
According to sociologist and author Ray Oldenburg, our modern, busy lifestyles often mean we simply go from home – our “first place” to work, which is our “second place” and then back home again. We might visit friends and family now and then too, but this is often within the privacy of their homes.
Oldenburg believes that what is missing in our lives is the greater sense of community we get from a “third place” – also known as informal public gathering spaces, where we can connect with others or just relax and be ourselves in a “home-away-from-home” environment.
Some examples of a welcoming third place
- Coffee shops
- Communal work spaces which encourage communication
- Sunday markets with benches to sit
- Pubs or cocktail bars
- Outdoor picnic spots with cushions and low tables
- Cosy book club venues
- Your local restaurant or coffee spot down the road where you read the paper
Some distinctive characteristics of third places
- They’re comfortable and cosy with no formal dress code
- They’re familiar which means you might often see the same faces
- There’s often dancing and music at a third place
- They offer a neutral space, free of judgement and are open to people of all ages
- They’re inexpensive so you can go often
- The focal point is often to socialise around food and drinks – which is often what brings people together
What are the benefits of a third place?
Oldenburg’s research shows that third places, or hang-out spots give us the freedom to be creative, express ourselves and share a space with other like-minded people, creating that sense of community that helps us to feel a part of something bigger than ourselves.
Traditionally, third places were considered important spaces for community gatherings where people could brainstorm and drive social or political change.
Nowadays, third places help to ease some of the isolation we might feel within our homes or workspaces, they offer a place to come together. This connection with others also helps to connect us where more screen time and social media might divide us.
How social media contributes to loneliness
According to mental health clinician, Dr Shainna Ali, we are plagued by a loneliness epidemic. In the last 50 years, regardless of geographic location, gender, race, or ethnicity rates of loneliness have doubled in countries like the US.
But, in a time where technology and social media “connect” us to people from around the world, closer than ever before, how can this be the case?
The truth is, surveys and studies have shown that those who spent more time on social media every day report feeling lonelier than those who spend less time engaged in social media. Additionally, those who spend more time on social media in a given week feel more isolated than those who check their social media less.
Social media is incredibly seductive. It gives us a great reward (information and stimulation) for very little effort but, unlike television, you’re an active participant, and it allows you to skip what bores you and zone in on what gives you a buzz.
But it can mean that you have fewer real-time conversations with friends and family in your third place, and less time for experiences with others. Plus, it doesn’t take much for all that on-screen buzz to tip over into a feeling of stress, and the sheer time you spend online can throw your life off balance.
How to break free from social media
Swap virtual for real
Pick up the phone to say “happy birthday” instead of just writing a wall post. Start collecting cards and post one to a friend instead of just sending them a direct message on Instagram. Meet a friend in a coffee shop for a birthday lunch and have a good old-fashioned catch-up. These traditional habits have become rather special in our virtual world!
Plan a digital detox
Like a little screen-free time? If your work is screen-based, maybe having two days of no tech will free up time, and it’s far easier and more realistic than trying to go low tech for the whole week. You’ll still return to a mass of messages, but a break from the screen reminds us how pleasant life can be without constant updates and demands for our attention. Switch off your phone, tablet and laptop, and put them in a drawer.
This might leave you feeling edgy and as if something’s missing. But, the more you do it, the easier it gets, and the more you can focus on what’s important – like connecting with people in the real world, as well as yourself.
Time for a digital spring clean
Note how you felt after your two-day detox and how much more you got done. Make it a new rule never to get bogged down again. Keep your social-media sites clean, and the time you spend on them to a minimum.
Train people to respect your digital boundaries, and encourage them to detox too, so that you don’t eat into each other’s time so much! If you’re at work, get up from your desk when you feel the urge to log on, and stretch, breathe deeply, or go for a short walk or meet a friend for a quick lunch in a public space.
Compiled by Tammy Jacks