Everything is canceled. A global pandemic has placed entire countries under quarantine and closed social gathering spaces, leaving many around the world practicing social distancing at home while counting the days until we can return to normal or our next version of normal. With each passing day, we’re learning that socializing online is not quite the same as personal interaction, especially when there’s no other choice. It turns out that it is possible to spend most of your waking hours attending video meetings and virtual happy hours while still longing for human connection.
In 1989, Ray Oldenburg’s “The Great Good Place” explored the importance of public gathering spaces, referred to as “third places” for mental health, civic engagement, and a well-functioning civil society. These “third places” included cafes, tea houses, restaurants, etc. Before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the world, increasingly more restaurants and cafes were creating “no-fi” zones or were outright banning cell phones to encourage customers to look up, be social, and enjoy the dining experience. It turns out that it is possible to spend hours in public gathering spaces while still longing for human connection. Perhaps not much has changed.
The sad truth is that many of the places we engage socially are often filled with people spending more quality time with devices than humans. Here’s to a new normal that includes plenty of great places designed for humans to actually connect.