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vol.41: the future of virtual and physical third spaces (pt.3 of the third place series)
how to live a year like it's your last, doing a “universe has my back” audit, and rustic farm lifestyles
Welcome to Wellness Wisdom - A newsletter for the thoughtful by Patricia Mou. A medley of resources and thoughts on wellness start-ups, personal development, mental health and philosophy.
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Hello thoughtful humans!
It’s been a while since I sent out a newsletter. To be honest, I had the largest writing block to date with regards to getting the 3rd part finished for the Third Place Series. A month ago I sat down to put together the outline for the piece, and no matter how many ways I combined the ideas, it just didn’t click. So I put the pieces down and gave it time.
In that period I tried to “do less”. Aside from Rabbit Holes, I pretty much focused 100% of my energy into my projects at Calm, reading spiritually focused books, and taking in all the sights and sounds in NYC. Just as food fasts are good for our bodies, productivity fasts are good for our soul.
We’re all under this pressure all the time—to constantly be working, doing something productive, or making stuff. This is tied to our ability to live and survive. However, the issue is that this feeling persists even when we have enough to live and survive. If we don’t take our feet off the gas pedal, we begin to merge our identity with this need. We never question it.
I hope that as we all transition into a post-COVID world, you take the time to let your soul recharge. Smell the flowers. Let that side project sit. Don’t ship. Laugh with friends. Inhale the sultry street air. And watch many, many sunsets.
Onto today’s newsletter:
The future of virtual and physical third spaces
Live this year as if it was your last
Doing a “universe has my back” audit
As a refresher, “The third place” is a concept which identifies places that are not home (1st place) or work (2nd place).
Third places can be churches, coffee shops, gyms, hair salons, post offices, main streets, bars, beer gardens, bookstores, parks, and community centers.
However, in America, studies suggests that we’ve lost more than 1/2 of the casual gathering places that existed at midcentury.
Why? After World War II, cities built more and more private suburbs.
The 1948 Housing Bill freed up billions of dollars in credit for new homeowners.
Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 led to the creation of 41,000 miles of interstate over a 10-year period, making it easier for people to live farther from work.
By 2010, more than half of the U.S. population lived in suburbs.
Communities were increasingly replaced by separate, quieter, and often homogenous neighborhoods. Mixed-use spaces were increasingly zoned away in favor of strictly commercial or residential uses. The upshot of all this was an increase in personal space at the expense of daily conversations and serendipitous interactions with people from varying backgrounds.
As the building of highways enabled many Americans to move into suburbs from the 1950s and onwards, there were other highways being built concurrently. In the digital realm.
E-mail discussion lists, chat rooms, BBSs, Usenet groups and more all played a role in the development of online communities and social networks that sprouted in 1994+.
As our physical environments became more isolating, we released our reliance on them to entertain or connect us as they once did.
We could build our ideal communities and cities virtually.
Yahoo’s GeoCities was an online community of user-created Web pages from the early days of the Internet. Their main selling point was:
Ease of use: Users were offered a worldwide audience, and the ability to say things any way they wanted to.
Community: You weren't just getting a Web page; you were joining a community of users
With its user profiles and pages organized by topic, the service was a precursor to online networks like Facebook, MySpace, Xanga, Blogger and WordPress.
Many influences were abreast in the rising of online communities in the 80s+, however, one can perhaps intuitively contend that the general decrease of civic space and increase in isolation was a material one.
Increasingly, debates that once took place face-to-face happened on the internet, on Facebook, Twitter and countless other digital forums and platforms.
We collectively shied away from public civic discussion in the physical world, preferring to instead engage behind the warm glow of a screen.
Has it ever occurred to us that perhaps this tendency is not what comes naturally. Rather, that we are a product of our environment?
Architectural determinism is a theory employed in urbanism, sociology and environmental psychology which claims the built environment is the chief or even sole determinant of social behaviour.
Winston Churchill famously said:
“We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.”
Followed by Marshall McLuhan:
“We shape our tools; thereafter our tools shape us.”
The rise of American suburbs, the decline of civic public space, and the construction of digital communities in their place - all equate to a probability that perhaps our collective tendencies to be an online-first nation are not abnormal.
They are a perfectly normal response to macro trends in the last 50 years.
In understanding how physical space might shape civic engagement, there’s no other better place to look than the birthplace of democracy: ancient Greece.
Yes, new philosophical ideas, scientific discoveries and technological advances, were all imminent. However, physical spaces played a huge role in rich civic life.
Citizens debated everything in-person, from current events to business to the nature of the universe. It’s where they voted for politicians, preserved the law and participated collectively in making decisions for civic matters.
One notable example is the Athenian Agora: An open square that served as a place for political gatherings, the buying and selling of goods, religious services, athletic events, philosophical discussions, educational events and art displays.
Another examples is a stoa: covered walkways or porticos that existed for philosophical discussions and debates. Here, speakers and politicians would converse with the Athenian people from a pedestal called the bema.
In the past, one might strap on their sandals and head to the stoa, floating from huddle to huddle of intense discussion. Today one opens their laptop and scrolls through Twitter or Reddit.
“The piazza, in fact, is ‘un-American’. Americans feel uncomfortable sitting in a square: they should be working at the office or home with family looking at the television.” - Robert Venturi
Like many swinging pendulums throughout history, there are signs that the swing of community into the digital realm has reached its apex.
Today, IRL Connection is in the zeitgeist:
Religion's role in American society is shrinking
Remote work is on the rise
Surveys show that nearly half of Americans always or sometimes feel lonely.
How We Gather, written by Angie Thurston and Casper Kuile while at Harvard Divinity School, points to the rise of non-secular institutions that serve some of functions that organized religion once served: community, personal transformation, social transformation, purpose finding, creativity, and accountability.
Since the release of their landmark research, IRL Member Communities focused on community building have exploded.
In effect, the Athenian agora has become unbundled by America’s private sector.
Identity-based clubs focus on bringing together groups based on shared demographics.
For people of color: Ethel’s Club
For 45+ and up: Joss Collective
For parents: The Wonder
Interest-based clubs focus on creating a shared space for people who share particular passions.
For writers: Center for Fiction
General clubs bring together people across identities and interests (although generally within the same socioeconomic range)
Though computers, telephones, and television have technically eliminated the need for face-to-face encounters, they have not done so in practice.
The core of city life - exchanges of goods, information, and ideas - still pulsates strongly in the rise of IRL member communities and existing quintessential American third spaces: university campuses, school yards, marketplaces, sports stadiums, parks, and public squares.
With the Covid-19 crisis largely (fingers crossed) behind us, its occurrence has largely heightened our human urge to gather in groups.
Periods of stability interrupted by sudden breaks with rapid change (Thomas Kuhn conceptualizes these changes as paradigm shifts) are opportunities to embark on radically new and bold projects.
Planners, designers, architects, landscape managers and journalists are already writing about how this crisis will transform our relationship with public space (Alter 2020, Florida 2020, Roberts 2020).
Acknowledging their critical community-building role, many cities recently launched economic rescue plans to save this imperiled social infrastructure. A few examples:
Researchers in the United States are building a database of cities that have implemented cycling and pedestrianization projects in response to COVID-19.
Cleveland’s ReStart CLE program offered specific funds to businesses, such as grants to help restaurants winterize their outdoor spaces.
In Philadelphia, a citywide effort dubbed Ready. Set. Philly! promotes a return to work, recreational activities, and spending in downtown corridors.
A new program in Chicago, Chicago Alfresco, will encourage community gathering in artfully designed outdoor spaces.
The Washington State nonprofit Washington Trust for Historic Preservation recently created a grant supporting the preservation of third places.
On the other hand, our Internet communities will become increasingly authentic, conducive to civil discourse, and blended with IRL components.
The next decade of social media will move from:
open → exclusive/semi-private/niche
many connections → fewer, deeper connections
curated by algorithms → curated by trusted connections
ad-driven → community-owned
designed to collect data → designed for privacy
growth as key success metric → trust as key success metric
In the summer of COVID-19, Terra Incognita NYC mapped how local communities in NYC’s five boroughs maintained social ties and interaction despite social-distancing mandates; how these interactions and spaces were mediated by technologies.
What they found was that the digital city actually reinforced the physical city.
Whilst technical infrastructure became more important, the physical infrastructure of the “real place” did not lose significance. Some “real places” were severely affected by the financial impact of the pandemic. It was the digital practice of the community that then focused on mobilizing resources to maintain the physical infrastructure.
As such, we’ll begin to see the blurring of our IRL and online communities in a cycle of reinforcement. Members can and will use technology to keep in touch with each other and the larger community when they're not able to meet in person. Technology can also provide the connective tissue that keeps relationships forged in-person going even when members aren't together in the space.
Furthermore, as digital and physical communities become more integrated, online identities will begin to translate to offline interactions (hopefully eliminating the negative behavior of trolls). Bailenson and Yee at Stanford recently coined the Proteus effect, which contended that our online personas actually influence the development of our offline ones, and vice versa.
On the other side of the spectrum, some online communities will prefer to stay predominately or completely online. In these cases, the role of community managers/moderators and blockchain technology will police bad actors and encourage positive-sum behaviors.
Anna Gat’s The Interintellect has taken off as a global community of intellectuals that host frequent salons on philosophy and science, art and technology, finance and history, religion and music.
The strong adherence to the II’s code of honor is deeply respected by the community and enforced by its moderators. One-off meet-ups are routinely organized by its members which serve to further enrich discussions online.
Furthermore, Web3 will better allow creators and their communities to capture and exchange value, forming robust digital economies, and creating a decentralized metaverse.
With the goals of removing intermediaries and giving users power and ownership over their data, identity, security, and transactions, Web 3.0’s predominant guiding principle is verifiability and trust - an antidote to the lawless and identity-less wild west of Web 1.0 and 2.0.
Verifiability makes it easy to hold promises via social contracts to consumers through computable law. In a way, the Internet is becoming a nation by taking what Bitcoin did to money and applying it to all types of programs.
One example of this is a concept recently put forward by Balaji. Cloud Countries or reverse diaspora is a community that forms first on the internet, builds a culture online, and only then comes together in person to build dwellings and structures.
Though it will look very different from an Athenian Stoa, the future of public and civic space in America is bright.
And how they will transpire into the future.
Phew! that was a lot. Thanks for traveling with me across 3 issues to dig deeper into third spaces.
I encourage you take my views with a grain of thought (ha) and read the primary literature if you can (as urban planning is not my area of expertise). Check-out Rethinking Third Spaces and The Good Great Place from the OGs.
P.S. In order to continue my investigation on Third Spaces, I recently launched The Third Space - a monthly newsletter where my friends and I review third spaces we love.
We rate third spaces on these criteria: Scent, Vibes, Texture, Lighting, Noise, and Inclusivity.
Can’t wait to continue this conversation there.
If there’s a particular third space in NYC you’d recommend or want me to write about, hit reply and lmk. (We recently all moved to NYC so will be reviewing tons of third spaces in the coming months :D)
As always -
Here’s the advice any ambitious person loves to hear:
“I get to the library and all set-up by around 5:30AM. I spend a few minutes in prayer and meditation, followed by a 5–10 minute session in my journal. The purpose of this journal session is get clarity and focus for my day.”
— productivity guru Benjamin P. Hardy
And here’s what we don’t want to hear:
“I don’t get up in the morning until I know exactly what I’m going to do. Sometimes, I stay in bed until about three in the afternoon, without any breakfast.”
— minimalist painter Agnes Martin
Sometimes we crave the feeling of productivity, just to avoid the not knowing. The beauty of Agnes Martin’s approach is that she sat with the pain of not knowing. Instead of running from it, she faced it. And by facing not knowing, it gradually became knowing again, on a deeper, more stable, more honest, more inspired level
⭐ [ESSAY] Rick and Morty and the Meaning of Life
At the heart of “Rick and Morty” is a choice: Will you crumple in despair knowing the terrifying truth that life is totally meaningless or will you saddle up the universe and strike out for a life of fun and adventure?
When Beth (his daughter) leaves her marriage, Rick suggests she get out there and do something. Saddle up and take the universe for a ride.
Beth refuses the call.
That’s what most of us do. When we’re offered an adventure we say no fucking way. Just like Beth we mumble excuses about family, obligations, work and “as much as I hate to admit it ABC’s ‘The Bachelor’” and go right back to pretending everything is fine.
We don’t ask questions, accept whatever “meaning” is passed down to us from our family, culture, society, school, religion and work. We choke it down and go right back to worrying about whatever trivial distraction has us tangled up at the moment like this famous skit from Monty Python’s “The Meaning of Life.”
The search for ultimate meaning is not about meditation and doing nothing and staying right where you were all along.
It’s about going somewhere, exploring everything and going through profound and painful self-exploration, where you strip away what’s not real layer by layer, like eating yourself alive.
What is the meaning of life is not the question you should ask.
The proper question is: What does it mean to you?
Only you can answer that. And the point of life is to find out your answer to that prompt.
⭐ [ESSAY] Why I Quit Tech and Became a Therapist
Glen Chiacchieri landed his dream job after the MIT media lab, to do research at Dynamicland with the visionary Bret Victor. He got to use his skills in engineering, programming, and user interface design to invent innovative media. He had no deadlines, no boss, and no expectations about what he would produce. It was up to him to work on what he thought was worthwhile.
Over he began to realize that his work wouldn't help people be happier in ways that felt meaningful to him. Slowly, depression crept in and took root.
Looking back from a place of greater perspective, I'd say that having freedom from external meaning-making systems caused me to look inward. With no one telling me what to work on I had to decide for myself what was meaningful in this life.
So Michael set out looking for clues:
Even before I left my job, I began to treat my life like a science experiment, trying lots of things, reading lots of things, discussing lots of things. I intently observed my reactions to these things in an empirical way, seeing what resonated and what didn't in order discover a deeper pattern, if there was one.
Eventually he collected enough clues to pivot his life into becoming a therapist.
I especially love his disclaimer towards the end about his windy path towards meaning:
In the telling of this story, I realize it may sound like it was a clear and direct path toward more meaningful work. I assure you, it was not.
I tried many, many things I didn't mention in the story and often felt lost, frustrated, anxious, and depressed. I also regularly had no idea what I was doing or if my scrambled searching would lead anywhere at all — the process was very non-linear, like picking a small collection of stars from the vast night sky and trying to draw lines connecting them
[BOOK] A Year to Live: How to Live This Year as If It Were Your Last. In this new book I recently picked up, Stephen Levine, teaches us how to live each moment, each hour, each day mindfully--as if it were all that was left. On his deathbed, Socrates exhorted his followers to practice dying as the highest form of wisdom. Levine decided to live this way himself for a whole year, and now he shares with us how such immediacy radically changes our view of the world and forces us to examine our priorities.
🧠 some musings:
With the worst (fingers crossed) of the pandemic behind us, death and how to make the most out of the precious life we have, has been on my mind. A goal I’ve been aspiring towards is: how can I live daily life in my 20s, with the wisdom of an 80 year old?
If I do this, will I in effect live longer? Why should I chase external goals? Instead, why not go straight to the bone marrow of life, and build a life with what many older generations state as what truly matters: relationships, helping others, and being authentic. Is a prerequisite for wisdom that I have had to personally suffer from my own mistakes? What is the minimum viable suffering needed to reap the 80/20 of wisdom to live a life of deep peace and meaning?
[NEW WORD] Pronoia [pro-noi-uh] n.
The opposite of paranoia. The belief that the universe is conspiring in your favor.
I love this ✨
During a particularly difficult and uncertain time, I did an audit of all the times in which the universe had my back. Basically the times where I either let go of complete control or wanted a particular outcome and got another. Every time, the outcome was 10x better for me in retrospect. Highly recommend this audit.
💌 For more pieces like the ones above, I curate the most thoughtful pieces on the Internet at Rabbit Holes with Patty.
Consider joining if you want to support me as a writer and curator.
A short fiction story about a man's journey through continual, massive changes of his body and mind, undergoing bionic augmentations and brain-machine implants throughout the mid 2100s. At what point, Jack wonders, will he no longer be him?
We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.
[VIDEO] A beautiful rural mansion in the Shanghai countryside
In 2016, Xing Yongheng rented four homesteads in Kunshan and moved there with his wife and three children from the western suburb of Shanghai.
Now the family of 5 get up at 5 o’clock every morning, hang out in the fields and then drink tea, meditate, and go hiking.
Thank you for being part of The Wellness Wisdom newsletter today.
I’m Patricia and have a full-time job but curate this newsletter in my free time as a labor of love.
This newsletter is free because I believe everyone deserves to have access to wellness resources. If you want to support this publication, join me down the rabbit hole 🕳🐇.