"Neutral ground provides the place, and leveling sets the stage for the cardinal and sustaining activity of third places everywhere. That activity is conversation."
The primary activity in the third place is conversation. The conversation is lively and filled with wit and humor and passion. People are free to express themselves democratically; that is, no one's words are valued more highly because of their rank or position.
The unwritten rules of the art of conversation (ironically written down) are:
1. Remain silent your share of the time (more rather than less).
2. Be attentive while others are talking.
3. Say what you think but be careful not to hurt other's feelings.
4. Avoid topics not of general interest.
5. Say little or nothing about yourself personally, but talk about others there assembled.
6. Avoid trying to instruct.
7. Speak in as low a voice as will allow others to hear.
To me this is the first of the characteristics of a third place that cannot be fulfilled (completely) online. The internet offers an odd hybrid of corespondence and conversation (converspondence? coresation? - but I digress). E-mails and blogging and instant messaging cannot replace conversation. They cannot be as dramatic or humorous or engrosing, nor can they be as boring and tedious. Researchers say that 93% of communication is non-verbal.
"There's no emoticon for what I'm feeling." ~Comicbook Guy (from the Simpsons)