Reclaiming Leisure Spaces

In a recent post I discussed an article on Ethika Politika about modern ethics. In this piece I’d like to point out another interesting item from the same journal – “Learning to Linger in Leisure Spaces” by Leah Libresco. It is in fact a review of The Great Good Place, by Ray Oldenburg, which describes the importance of “third places” (neither work nor home) where people can gather. Although I have not read the book, I am glad to see such themes being raised.

Oldenburg laments the decline of public spaces which provide “neutral ground,” that “exist for conversation” and which “keep a relatively low profile.” To expand on the ideas contained in the review, I think the inability to hold conversations in public venues is crucial to the near extinction of leisure spaces (where even libraries, of all places, have become noisy and full of electronics). The other night a friend and I were at a small bistro which was almost empty. But looming directly over our heads was a large television broadcasting programs that interested neither of us, yet which was a source of mild annoyance throughout our stay.

It is a reflection of the overall demise of social graces that many establishments no longer believe in “keeping a low profile.” Unfortunately what is frenetic or obnoxiously trendy tends to discourage the idea of drawing people to think or relax. The unassuming diners, coffee shops and slightly rundown but cozy taverns that I remember from decades past are largely extinct. They have almost all been converted into karaoke bars or restaurants featuring weird furniture and fusion cuisine.

Just as bad as the aural and visual commotion favored by these venues is the fact that so many patrons seem incapable of thoughtful communication, since they are constantly pulling out their mobile devices, even when in the company of others. I would say that a precondition of reclaiming leisure activity in “third places” is a cultural counter-etiquette on the part of groups and individuals who use them.

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