He and She said:
“All great societies provide informal meeting places, like the Forum in ancient Rome or a contemporary English pub, but since World War II, America has ceased doing so.”
That’s what Ray Oldenberg said in his 1990 book, The Great Good Place. He even had a name for this missing space. It’s one you might have heard before: the third place. For Oldenberg, home was the first social space and work was the second. He believed that this third place, a place where we interact without the responsibilities of home and work, was vital, and he felt this loss was a significant one for American society. Robert Putnam explores similar themes in Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital.
There’s been a real recognition of the power of this concept in recent years. In typical American style, many businesses, among them a certain coffee chain with a mermaid logo, have been trying like crazy to manufacture them. But Starbucks isn’t the only one; walk into any of those chain restaurants (don’t eat, for God’s sake!) and take a moment to notice how contrived every aspect of the décor is, how much thought goes into the perfect wall-art and tchotchkes. All in order to create perhaps the quintessential American oxymoron: artificial authenticity.