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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UFL chapter.

Simply defined, a “third place” is a physical location that facilitates social activity and isn’t where you live or work. Think of it as that one place where the characters in a Disney Channel TV show always seemed to hang out, but never bought anything at.

Back in the ‘70s, ‘80s and even the ‘90s, third places were popular places to mingle and unwind that helped to bring communities and the people in them together, but their relative nonexistence today makes this once-valued pastime much more difficult.  

Theory holds that the prevalence of the internet has led these third places to gradually disappear.  But the connections on the internet are no substitute for those held in real life, which in turn leaves us isolated and lonely. Not only this, but for some, the internet has even taken away the distinction between workplace and home, leaving us with just one space.

Americans are spending less time than ever with their friends, and while the internet contributes to this, so does the loss of places where people would formerly hang out. For people who have grown up in the age of the internet, connecting with others is difficult, especially now that the only place to meet new people seems to be the internet.

What does this mean though? Why is it a bad thing that we only have one space? Surely it makes things simpler. Sure, it does, but at the cost of separation of life responsibilities, which results in dissatisfaction and inability to enjoy all facets of life, since work and home cloud social life, social and work crowd home life and on and on. There’s no distinct line that separates one space from another, leaving them to bleed into each other in a way that messes up the balance that had been perfected back years ago.

By separating work from social and from home, we can live more balanced lives that are compartmentalized and organized in a way so that one facet of our life doesn’t infringe upon another. This in turn can lead us to live more balanced, fulfilled and happy lives.

Some argue that we do have an abundance of third spaces, like coffee shops, gyms, and bars, but what this argument fails to consider is the cost associated with each activity. A true third place allows for socialization and existence without a price attached, eliminating barriers to access and ensuring all can take advantage of the space. Cost barriers lead people to stay home instead and reinforce the elimination of third places in favor of the internet one-place idea we see taking over. The creation of food halls, game rooms and outdoors parks would all be beneficial, as they can be enjoyed at no cost and would foster an environment conducive to socialization.

Just look at how happy teens were in ‘80s movies, hanging out at the drive-in movie theater, or in ‘90s movies, hanging out at the local diner, or in 2000s movies, hanging out at the mall.  What place like this exists today in 2024? The answer is no place. The teens in movies set in today’s day and age would capture hours upon hours of cell phone use, but almost no in-person socialization and certainly not at a third place either.

Combating anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses on the rise with the advent of the internet is of great concern to many, yet no one considers bringing back third spaces to re-emphasize the part of humanity that was once so treasured by everyone. We’ve lost a sense of community and the ability to socialize yet gained a slew of mental illness in the process. The pattern here is clear.

Try and find a third place near you – you’ll find it’s much harder than you realize. Capitalism, more profitable business models and demand have changed the climate of the world and eliminated so many of the spaces we formerly occupied.

So, we must build our own places. Outside, inside, anywhere really. Somewhere we can have meaningful conversation with those we know, but also with strangers who help expand our worldview and teach us things about the world we might never have known without bumping into them at that third place and striking up a discussion.

Emphasizing the social aspect and highlighting the importance of spending time with friends and humanity in general is beneficial in more ways than can be imagined. Finding your own third place can be the first step you take to combat loneliness and so many other feelings of inadequacy that seem to permeate us generationally. We must be the generation to bring back third places – both for our sake, and for that of all who come after us.

Lauren is currently a second year at the University of Florida studying Media Production and Classical Studies. Originally from Chicago, she now calls South Florida home when she isn't attending school in Gainesville. She loves writing articles about life on campus, the newest trends taking over TikTok, women in sports, and beauty/wellness. When she's not writing for Her Campus, you can find her watching Formula One, reading the latest sports romance book, watching hockey, or talking about her most recent film obsession. She hopes to work in the film industry in the future; writing, producing, and directing her own films.