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The Truth About the Fact: An International Journal of Literary Nonfiction

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The Truth About the Fact: A Journal of Literary Nonfiction is an international journal committed to the idea that excellence in the art of letters can play a vital role in transforming the planet we share.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


The first time I ever heard the concept “the third place” was in reference to Starbucks marketing campaign. In 2009 Starbucks CEO Howard Shultz stated: "We strive to create a welcoming environment for all of our customers. We do not have any time limits for being in our stores, and continue to focus on making the Third Place experience for every Starbucks customer." After hearing this statement I decided to research where the term “the third place” stemmed from. Was it just a clever marketing innovation Starbucks had created, or was there something more to it?
According to Wikipedia, the term was first coined by urban sociologist Ray Oldenberg in the 1980s. Oldenburg calls one's "first place" the home and those that one lives with. The "second place" is the workplace community where people may actually spend most of their time. Third places, then, are "anchors" of community life and facilitate and foster broader, more creative interaction. Oldenburg suggests these hallmarks of a true "third place": free or inexpensive, food and drink, highly accessible, proximate for many, involve regulars and both new friends and old should be found there.

After reading this background, Starbucks clever marketing strategy became much more clear. Not only was the marketing team trying to brand Starbucks as societies universal “third place” they were trying to make it fulfill the roll the coffeehouse used to have. When coffeehouses first started they fulfilled this third place in people’s lives but our modern day coffeehouses (or coffeeshops) are so much different. Most people use places such as Starbucks to get their caffeine fix while they are on the go. There are some who spend hours there, but the majority just passes through. Yes Starbucks may fulfill the “third place” role for some people, but it certainly didn’t for me.
So what exactly is my third place? As I thought about it I realized I couldn’t classify one specific location. I could hardly even specify a second place. I realized I have many places that fit into these categories: my current apartment, workplace, internship, friend’s houses, the house I lived in for the first 18 years of my life, my university, my favorite independent coffee shop, even my favorite restaurants. Not only did I have so many places that fit these descriptions I also had constant access to the internet and cell phone which seemed to complicate things even more.

I don’t think specifying one particular place as your “third” is important, because in most cases it’s impossible. However, I think the fundamental ideas behind the term are. Everyone needs something out of the usual home and work routine. People need a place to come together and share ideas and have genuine enlighten interact. For some people that place may be their local Starbucks or coffeeshop, for others it may be an online chatroom, or a place they go to volunteer, and for others it may be a monthly interest club or favorite restaurant- the list is endless. No matter how busy life is or how caught up we are in work or home life we need something more outside of our routines if we want to grow. The concept of a place that embodies that really interests me and if I ever do figure out what mine is, I’ll be sure to let you know.


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