The tragic disappearance of the third place

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons | The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh has 20 branches spread across the city.

Paige Parsons | Staff Writer

People are lonelier than ever. This has coincided with an apparent increase in consumerism.

The Stanley Quencher, which went viral recently, is just one example of people buying an excess of useless items because they feel they need it to be whole. Starbucks had a collaboration with Stanley, causing people at Target to go insane over purchasing one.

Customers waited in line for hours just to receive a ticket, and then began fighting upon the realization there were not enough cups to go around. For a brand that preaches sustainability, this obsession with collecting their cups is absurd.

According to the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, compulsive buyers experience increased levels of alienation and reported being lonely prior to a purchasing spree. This fixation on purchasing goods fills in for the lack of human connection experienced by some people. This phenomenon is demonstrated by the Stanley trend.

The obsession over Stanley Quenchers is certainly not the first trend that’s led to over consumption. But, there’s a solution for future generations to a better outlet for loneliness.

Ray Oldenburg’s theory on “third places” presents the idea that humans require three realms to be happy – that of the home, work or school, and then a third place in which humans can interact without pressure. This third place is supposed to allow people to form a community without external stressors. College, in my opinion, covers almost all of these bases, which is why it is regarded as one of the best times of someone’s life. That begs the question: What happens after?

The future is terrifying for many. Financial stress is a big issue for young people, especially once weaned off parental support. This undoubtedly impacts the first two places, seeing how expensive housing is and the federal minimum wage sitting at $7.25 per hour. But that is not even taking into account the third place.

Third places are not supposed to be somewhere that causes financial stress for people. It was always supposed to be something to make simple connections like chatting with neighbors over the fence or meeting a friend for walks in the park – something to establish easy company. This has been phased out of society over the years, beginning with the romanticism of privacy within the nuclear family all the way up to Covid-19 placing the final nail in the coffin of socialization.

With third places rarer and rarer in today’s society, there is almost nowhere to spend quality time with friends that does not require spending excessive amounts of money. Hobbies have become more about collecting and spending than actually enjoying the hobby. Connection has been replaced with consumerism and it is not something that I’m looking forward to potentially experiencing after college. This thought prompted me to look into one of the few places that still exists without the expectation of spending: libraries.

Libraries are so under utilized, and it has a lot to do with rampant materialism. People are so obsessed with the idea of owning something that they will bypass borrowing books from their local libraries for the streaming services or bookstores.

The library is also experiencing the effects of this loneliness epidemic and rampant consumerism. Books have become more of a collectable item in recent years rather than the open access information that the library readily provides. Similarly, streaming services are preferred to the movies and movie nights available via your local library. Overall, this has lessened the number of people using the library despite its many free amenities according to Statista.

To some students, this may seem inconsequential. College campuses have so many opportunities for passive interactions and human connection. With everything at your fingertips, the idea that it might all go away is almost impossible to imagine.

Making friends and getting involved is so much easier at college than it is in the real world. College students are likely going to graduate one day, and students will likely find themselves caught between an endless cycle of the 9-5 workday and their small apartment with nowhere else to relax.

The third place is so important to feel fulfilled. While a new purchase may feel great at the moment, that high will never replace the ones created by enjoying the company of others in places that are not devoted to spending money. Instead of buying that trendy item, I encourage you to invest in your human connections, especially when the ones we have in college are in the past.

If you’re feeling lonely, take the time to find the third places in your community whether you live on or off of campus. You are likely to have a better experience there than you would adding another Stanley to your shelf.