The Mall Is Not Enough For Better Software
The loss of 3rd Places not only imperils our communities; it also decreases our opportunities to practice authentic relationship building.
In a previous letter, I talked about the importance of authentic connection with those around us. While I referred to the workplace context, the lack of healthy relationships is everywhere, particularly among American men. Research has gone so far as to describe loneliness as a 'silent epidemic'. How did we get here? And, to fix not only our software development but our families, our communities, and our nation, how do we get out?
The best way to learn how to build alliances, sustain initiatives, and grow "soft skills" is to practice. However, as creative director Nathan Allebach describes, we increasingly lack "third places". Nathan explains that a third place is somewhere other than home or work where people engage in community and grow relationships. These are places where we can practice relationship forming through spontaneous conversation and interaction. These third places include places like:
Neighborhood events: Block Parties, Barbeques, and Community Yard Sales
During the pandemic quarantine, I was incredibly grateful that someone on our block organized weekend backyard firepit nights. Adult neighbors would bring their camping chairs and a cold beverage, sit a responsible distance from each other around the fire, and find catharsis that they weren't alone during "unprecedented times". Despite being a high-functioning introvert, I started to relish these events. It was liberating not to have to be Dad or a husband - I could show up as Matthew, crack a few jokes, discuss some news, and set aside making sense of the senseless time, even if only for a few hours.
I was incredibly fortunate that my neighbor took the initiative to form this third place in a time of crisis. However, throughout the US, many have lost that option. In his book Bowling Alone, Robert D. Putnam noted that we've been losing third places for decades. These losses manifest as less club participation, lowered church membership, and fewer social opportunities. Attempts to make the Mall the new "town square", several decades on have largely failed. And online "town squares", like Twitter or Facebook, seem to have their own crisis moments.
The metaverse is not ready, and may not be for some time to come. Building authentic, powerful relationships with our peers requires safe, welcoming, and in-person third places to practice. And without exercise, our atrophied social muscles will be hard-pressed to move the kind of critical mass that organizational change requires.
I was first made aware of Braver Angels through author Linda Rising, Ph.D. The group attempts to address the partisan divide through the empathetic discussion of differences, finding common ground, and identifying new ways forward - together. I’m excited to engage and use this important work as an opportunity to continue my improvement. If you know of other, new “third places” let me know either in the comments or via direct message.
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