Death of the Third Space + Quiet Quitting

27 January 2023 • Personal

A very tired person with their head on their desk holding a sign that says "help".

I think by now, most people have heard the phrase “quiet quitting” floating around, though some may not know what it means. The way I see it, “quiet quitting” is when you aren’t feeling invested in your job, so you do juuuuuust enough to get by. Got something that’ll take 5 minutes to do? Maybe I’ll get to it after a 15 minute walk to the coffee machine and a 10 minute bathroom break. Someone needs help? Eh, that’s not really my problem, is it? They’ll figure it out. People get their core responsibilities done, but nothing more. They don’t show up early, they don’t stay late, they don’t attend any meetings that aren’t mandatory, and they don’t do any work outside of what’s expected of them.

There’s been a lot of talk as to why this is a thing. Mostly, it stems from burnout at work, especially during the pandemic & return to “normal”. We’re becoming more aware of toxic behaviors, and less forgiving of them. When the job doesn’t care about us, why should we care back?

I think I inadvertently stumbled on to another possible reason as to why this burnout might be happening: the death of the third space.

What is the Third Space (or third place)? Per Wikipedia:

In sociology, the third place/space refers to the social surroundings that are separate from the two usual social environments of home (“first place”) and the workplace (“second place”). Examples of third places include churches, cafes, clubs, public libraries, gyms, bookstores, stoops and parks. In his book The Great Good Place (1989), Ray Oldenburg argues that third places are important for civil society, democracy, civic engagement, and establishing feelings of a sense of place.

If I think back on my own life, I’ve had a lot of third spaces. I spent countless hours in church from age 10 to age 29. I’ve been Chronically Online for most of my adult life. I spent a lot of time playing video games with my friends. I moonlighted as a bartender at a brewery in my city, both to make some extra money, but also to be around people I enjoyed.

None of these third spaces exist for me right now. I left the church for a myriad of personal reasons. Twitter is dying a loud & obnoxious death, Facebook is already a toxic cesspool, and Mastodon is still new enough that it still feels like everyone is just making noise for the time being. Now that V is here, I don’t play games with people online anymore, and I don’t bartend anymore. I’m sure I’m not alone in this; while not everyone had kids, we all had to deal with the pandemic throwing a wrench in our personal lives, basically eliminating this Third Space for a lot of us.

Additionally, lots of people (myself included) stopped going in to the office, leading to a growing number of people merging their First and Second Spaces into one weird mishmash. Many people have tried to put physical limits on their time at work in various ways (dressing in work clothes during the work day, having a dedicated office for doing everything, going to a co-working space, etc.), to a wide range of success.

But think about it - people no longer have their Third Space, so they don’t have any sort of outlet to relax, vent, and unwind after a long day. And now their First and Second Spaces are overlapping more and more, so any sort of toxicity from their job is having a more direct impact on their home life. All of the individual spaces have become compressed down into one space.

I’m suffering a lot from this right now. My org was one of the many tech firms that announced layoffs earlier this month, and while I survived, my morale and mental state has definitely taken a hit. I can’t help but bring that home with me any time I use the restroom, or get water, or check in on the family. My separate spaces no longer exist, and it’s very frustrating.

I don’t have an answer for this. I wish I did. It’s just something that’s forefront of my mind, and something I need to make sure I’m thinking about & being proactive at trying to rectify. Perhaps you’re going through something similar and didn’t realize it; if so, I hope this helps you.