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Ray makes a historical reference to the post WWII era, where after the masses of veterans and others ushered in a new consumer era marked by affordable housing, the proliferation of the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.