Gen Z: Don’t Digitize the Thrift Store

Image courtesy of Dirk_YUL through Creative Commons

Every day, Generation Z—colloquially known as Zoomers—are subject to an increasingly virtual world: one needs to look no further than Facebook’s recent brand change into Meta. Viewing an onslaught of hyper-tech, like the new NFT scramble, coupled with pandemic isolation, it’s no wonder vinyl is making a comeback amongst young people—Zoomers are seeking to swap out the visual for the hands-on.

The retro-crazed Zoomers at McGill need look no further than Milton Parc for a taste of the old—The Word Bookstore on 469 Rue Milton is a time warp back into a bygone age, one long before hopeless “what is the blockchain” search queries and hapless breakout rooms. In fact, The Word goes back to way before the net, before even the release of VHS. The shop, housed in a former stable dating back to 1835, is as anachronistic as they come. The Word’s website gloats the absence of computers and electronic cash registers from their store, and that “all calls are still made on a rotary phone.” The one-room store’s shelves are bursting with poetry, philosophy, classics, and much more, all used. A philosophy of wornness seems to seep out from the brickwork and into the street. 

Here is a last bastion of mid-century analog quintessence, a genuine hole-in-the-wall oozing with spirit, seemingly spared (or missed) by a modern tsunami of Corporate Memphis and minimalist logos. In fact, The Word doesn’t even have a sign posted outside the building. It’s faceless. It has a window, though, and undoubtedly many passersby are enticed to enter by the cozy scene from within. The Word is a testament to what many Zoomers may be looking for in their thrifted vinyl copy of Dreams—a serious interiority manifested in familiar physical forms, like well-turned pages, uninterested in carefully-curated presentation to a disgruntled and depressed virtual audience.

A philosophy of wornness seems to seep out from the brickwork and into the street. 

In other words, the antiquated is in.

But what The Word Bookstore has so carefully mastered, and what we Gen Z must learn to mimic, is a fierce rejection of the technological powers-that-be. This generation, with all our propensity for trendsetting and change, must learn how to close our doors to the forces that held us hostage for most of the 2010s. This is exemplified in our increasingly dangerous relationship between the thrift store and the internet. Thrift shops have become seismically popular with Gen Z throughout the past few years. Fueling this revival is Depop, an app that has popularized reselling—finding underpriced clothing from second-hand stores and marking it up as a lucrative vintage item—and it has made Zoomers some serious cash. Yet our fervent engagement with Depop runs the risk of spoiling a seriously good thing—sending prices soaring by exploiting the exceptionally fair price margins many thrift stores provide. Just as the communicative potential of the internet was largely poisoned by Meta and other tech conglomerates, Zoomers are flirting with disaster in their rampant consumption of Depop and curated items. 

Now, it’s crucial that we seal ourselves off and disengage with what we’re told is predetermined.

We have shown generationally that we value sustainability and display tremendous compassion when tackling social justice issues. Now, it’s crucial that we seal ourselves off and disengage with what we’re told is predetermined. In all the ways Generation Z has redefined consumption unwittingly, we inevitably harbor the potential to make colossal waves through conscious action and organization. As Noam Chomsky said: “If you go to one demonstration and then go home, that’s something, but the people in power can live with that. What they can’t live with is sustained pressure that keeps building, organizations that keep doing things, people that keep learning lessons from the last time and doing it better the next time.” It isn’t easy to turn down an opportunity to make a quick buck, or to disengage from what everyone else seems to be doing. But our influence is easily underestimated. Zoomers have a serious impact wielded through our mastery of everything internet. We should use it to get offline. 

Let’s not attempt to buy-back culture, let’s redefine it

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