So, I went to a lunch time talk on “Social Media and the Third Place” at the nearby co-working space @gangplank last week. The speaker was a local restaurateur who has been active in social media lately (and who happens to own my favorite BBQ restaurant in the area). I had never heard the term “the third place” before and didn’t really give it much thought (see, I figured it was a saying along the lines of “he wasn’t even supposed to be there in the first place”… in my mind, it was just the thing that came after whatever was the “and second of all”).
My re-education in the matter came about 3 or 4 minutes into the talk when the term was defined as a place where people gather for a social purpose that’s neither home nor the workplace (’cause, ding-ding, those are the first and second places). It was like a big ol’ lightbulb (an incandescent, mind you, not one of them fancy newfangled, curly, Escher-inspired CFLs) went off inside of me. I quickly opened my trusty Moleskine and added a line to the page dedicated to the story idea I have been working through: “these characters definitely need a third place in which to interact”. I’m sure the speaker wondered what the heck I was writing down so feverishly (I was seated in the front row), but this was a real epiphany for me and I didn’t want to let it get away.
With the important revelation captured, I returned my full on attention to the talk. It turns out there are 8 “rules” that define whether or not a place is truly a third place and there was a handy handout right in front of me with these rules set forth. Now, as a writer I’m pretty good with rules (probably has something to do with the fact that I’m also a computer programmer), so as I dive into this endeavor I will seek to come up with a few locations that fit the story’s time period and geography, while keeping in mind the eight rules: is neutral ground, is a status leveler, conversation is the main activity, is accessible, has “regulars”, has a low profile, fosters a playful mood & is a home away from home.
The term “third place” was coined by sociologist/author Ray Oldenburg, who has published two books on the subject.