Author – Vignesh
Everyone likes to lament about how life was simple when they were a child and how it only got more complicated as they turned into an adult. All of us would have come across someone saying ‘It was just me studying in school, playing cricket in the playground and then back to home! Ah, wish I could go back to the simpler times!’. Truth is life is still the same three things. Like the school, the playground and the house, all of our life still falls into three categories. We just don’t bother to sort them into three distinct parts and project it to be too obscure when it truly isn’t.
Town planning principles and urban designers have to rely on a basic concept that dictates how people use space. All of us live in just three places.
The first being workplace where you spend your time exercising your skills in exchange for money that enables you to make a living. Horrible bosses, and dirty politics between team mates or simply hating the job you got could make you hate this place. It’s very important that you choose a field of work that you have a reasonable interest on and work in it whole heartedly. Choosing such field is not difficult in this age when you have source of inspiration everywhere! Inspiration to become a sports player, a car racer or even a cop are plenty out there from movies to coaching centre advertisements. What you do and how you feel in your workplace gives you a sense of purpose in life, and it keeps it going.
Second place is your home. It’s the place where you don’t have to put on a mask, a place where you can put no effort towards anything and feel comfortable lying in bed, eating the usual food thinking about nothing at all. It’s your bed, your room, the place where you sleep sound, the kitchen where you cook while listening to your playlist worrying about, of course, your next day at work. Horrible neighbours, rodents and the wrong person you’re married to could make this part of your life undesirable. Sure, it is common to hate your workplace. Its common to stare at the calendar and inch your way towards the weekend but it’s highly uncommon to detest your home, the second place.
Birds mate and build nest. So do mammals. They all get territorial and sexual. We are no different. These two things are all your parents talk about. ‘What job are you going to get? How much will you earn? How soon should you marry? What kind of family should you marry into?’ You’ve heard of all this. These two places of your life are hence very important. Hospitals, railway stations, school, college campus, banks, any government or private organisation buildings where people go to work and those that make up a developing city falls under ‘the first place’. The residential zones on the other hand, the nest we build for ourselves and live inside with our family like a pair of birds protecting their eggs will come under ‘the second place’.
Well, the most overlooked part that is facing major challenges nowadays is ‘the third place’. The cricket ground of our adult lives. What’s the third placed that you go to other than the classroom and your hostel? It is the café, the restaurant, the cinema or the newly opened Max or the usual spot for the fashion shopping spree that you go to. It’s the mall where you meet up with your friends, the park or the beach depending on where you live. It’s the tea shop, the cafeteria in the first floor of your office where you talk about your favourite movie star or about who’s dating whom or what Modi did was right or wrong. It’s the central perk from FRIENDS. Whatever you talk in this place usually dictates your social life. Think about it. The most important fights, realizations and reconciliations you had with your friends and even your ex must have happened in some public recreational place.
What defines a third place? If a person from Chennai enjoys having the beach as the go to meeting spot with his/her friends and a person from Bangalore has parks or malls, what makes the third place? The one thing that’s common between all third places is that you go there and spend money. Malls, cinema theatres and parks all have small shops for snack food, right? Going by that logic any place you go for shopping is a third place. Even the super market where you buy your groceries, the market where you neither work nor sleep qualifies to be the third place. If no one in your family is a doctor and you visit the clinic or the dentist, it becomes ‘the third place’. It’s basically everything else other than your work place or home. The age of the internet has now become a serious threat to this part of our lives. How? Silk and cotton traders used to bring the latest clothes they made to the market, greet their customers with a ears wide smile, offer complimentary foods, gifts and what not. For consumers, visiting clothing stores for Sarees and Dhotis before Diwali in on itself was a one-day trip with family. Both meet up in one location: The market street. These streets were the locations where sellers and consumers meet each other and exchange goods and money. You see where I’m going with this. Online fashion sites removed this place from existence. From theatre chain owners’ growing concern and fear over online streaming services to every other apps like BYJU, ZOMATO, FACEBOOK and other fitness-based applications removing the needs of cinema theatres, schools, restaurants and gyms, we can see the pattern. Although, that’s the virtual world the internet promised us. There will be teachers and students but no schools, and there will be doctors and patients but no hospitals. The USA and many other western countries are facing a massive closing down of a large number of malls in a short period just like how commercial markets and bazaars in India are recently observing dull crowds even during the Diwali week with disappointment. These ‘third places’ are put into question as to their purpose of existence, thus in a way the existence of a city or the urban culture itself. All of this is just an observation. Clearly, these kinds of online sites and apps generate revenue, so no one’s complaining. But is it comforting? Is it comforting to be one of the hunter-gatherer species and receive food on delivery without moving? Is it comforting to not go shopping for a whole day with your family as a pre-Diwali or pre-Christmas ritual but simply scroll down pictures on your phone?
Steam engine trains enabled mass transportation of goods thus encouraging large scale production, thereby kick-starting the first industrial revolution through transportation. Electricity meant that we could make machines to do the mass production and so we got conveyor belts and robots taking away the jobs of the daily wage workers. The third industrial revolution is the beginning of the digital era. This revolution that came rushing to the early 90’s India was the reason why we got banks. Can you imagine a bank lending home loans and maintaining your account safely without computers? These banks lending loans for most of India is the reason why we grew as an economy without mismanaging information of such a large number of participants. The challenge to the existence of ‘the third place’ discussed so far is only the effect of the fourth industrial revolution. Digital era is not the same as the age of internet that we have now. Back then you had to sit on a desk and wait for minutes to have the CPU boot. The amount of time an average person spends in front of the screen was limited to a couple of hours. Now we spend the whole day in front of the phone screen, so it’s not the same. This time, the jobs are not only taken away, the whole of infrastructure is threatened. Should we stop it? No. Is it the right direction that we are going? Only time can tell.