This is the first of a short series of blogs written to document my thoughts on Ray Oldenburg's book, "The Great Good Place." In his book, Ray discusses the 'Third Place' as the public places where people go to enjoy the company of others in an informal social setting as necessities for our personal and community health. Henceforth, references to the author's work will be discussed as Ray's ideas/assertions.

Ray makes a historical reference to the post WWII era, where after the masses of veterans and others ushered in a new consumer era marked by affordable housing, the proliferation of the automobile industry for the masses, and America's stock was on the rise. This became the new 'American Dream,' right? The emphasis was on consumerism, growth was rampant, and the changing culture promoted a solid work ethic and a solid home life. That's my speculation, at least. Being in my mid-20s in the 21st century doesn't afford me the ability to be too empathetic when it comes to understanding what that life was like. All I have are stories and textbooks, but for the sake of this blog, it's good enough for me. I digress..

This may very well have been the birth of the consumerism and competition we know today. Once individuals were provided the opportunity to own their own houses and buy their own cars, they had the opportunity to seclude themselves as much as they wanted to, to self-eliminate from the communities in which they live. I'm not implying that the masses trapped themselves in their houses and became xenophobic, but it provided an opportunity to become less connected to those around them. During this period, there were candy shops, soda fountains, malt shops, and cigar stores that served these communities well by offering 'third places' for its members.

Now fast forward a number of decades and America's citizens have once again found themselves in a changing social paradigm:

"America does not rank well on the dimension of her informal life and less well now than in the past. Increasingly, her citizens are encouraged to find their relaxation, entertainment, companionship, even safety, almost entirely within the privacy of homes that have become more a retreat from society than a connection to it...Daily life amid the urban sprawl is like a grammar school without its recess periods." -Ray Oldenburg

What caused this shift from the post WW-II era to now? I'll say that there was an increased emphasis on consumerism and competition. While my elementary explanation does nothing to change the fact that it has changed, I merely hope to acknowledge that there has been a shift in the way we conduct our lives and the society that we belong to. Also worth noting is that I will use the terms society and community interchangeably, but I believe our experiential understanding of community is as elementary as my explanation of the cultural shift from WW-II to now.

"Unfortunately, opinion leans toward the view that the causes of stress are social but the cures are individual. It is widely assumed that high levels of stress are an unavoidable condition of modern life, that these are built into the social system, and that one must get outside the system in order to gain relief. Even our efforts at entertaining and being entertained tend toward the competitive and stressful. We come dangerously close to the notion that one "gets sick" in the world beyond one's domicile and one "gets well" by retreating from it. Thus, while German's relax amid the rousing company of the bier garten or the French recuperate in their animated little bistros, Americans turn to massaging, meditating, jogging, hot-tubbing, or escape fiction. While others take full advantage of their freedom to associate, we glorify our freedom not to associate." -Ray Oldenburg

I could write my own book around that quote and how valid of an opinion I believe it to be..

Ray goes on to explain how "leisure has been perverted into consumption" and how advertising has convinced people that the 'good life' is a purchase away, and pins people against each other in having the monetary resources to acquire the goods so cleverly advertised. This, coupled with the rarity or absence of places such as coffee shops, cafes, bookstores, etc that facilitate social gatherings for people to spend time outside of the home or work, define the reality we now face.

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Comment by Mike M on January 11, 2010 at 9:21pm
Okay Joe. :)

My thoughts on that passage:

I think we've been convinced that the only way to relieve stress is by consuming, by purchasing material goods, paying for elaborate vacations, etc. Of course, this creates a vicious cycle by having to work more and harder to attain promotions and receive raises so that we may consume more and more, this creating a greater need for stress relief.

When did we get away from the idea that stress relief can be a good conversation with a friend, the company of a stranger, time spent with family? It seems our beliefs have been so warped by the mainstream advertising powers that we've abandoned our notions of 'simple pleasures' for 'greener pastures' (and by 'greener' I mean more costly).

Furthermore, over the past few decades, we've become ever-increasingly disconnected from one another. Instead of a phone call or a hand-written letter we send an email. Instead of spending time with friends, we have simultaneous instant-messaging conversations through gmail and other mediums that have replaced AOL's pioneer. Instead of asking a friend how they've been, what's new in their life, we check their facebook status. Instead of having to call friends with news, we twitter and utilize the endless other mediums to electronically update the masses. These I feel are taking away from our ability to genuinely connect with friends and the other important people in our lives to relieve stress instead of turning to the latest million dollar advertisement campaign to purchase the latest gadget or by removing oneself from the locale to 'get away' from the locale where one's stress was generated.
Comment by Robbie Yoder on January 10, 2010 at 10:46am
Good insights. I also strongly agree that people need a place to connect- a place where they know your name and your favorite coffee drink, of course. I have found such a place at a sweet little bakery/coffee shop- JoLindas in Stevenson, WA. (Good morning, Joe.)
Creating community is a passion of mine, creating community in a coffee shop is even better. I am currently working towards opening a coffeehouse of my own. With that in mind, what are some ways that others are facilitating that sense of "third place" in their establishments?
Comment by Joseph Robertson on January 10, 2010 at 10:16am
Mike, I do wonder about your sentence,"I could write my own book around that quote and how valid of an opinion I believe it to be..". I thought the definition of an opinion was in essence a personal view and such valid because it is so. Unless you are refering to your opinion of his opinion, and if so just as valid. Now that I said that I'm ready for your opinion of his opinion. <];^)))
Comment by Joseph Robertson on January 10, 2010 at 10:03am
I will follow this blog..
Comment by Joseph Robertson on January 10, 2010 at 10:03am
Mike, sounds like a very nice book...

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