One of my favourite pastimes is going to Op shops. I’ve loved them ever since I was a kid. I think most middle class kids have their moment with pre-loved shopping. The local Op shop is the first chance you get to express your individuality on a high school budget. I have fond memories about all sorts of marvellous and bizarre items of clothing that graced my wardrobe.

I’ve just come back from a quick Op shop session on my lunch break where I stumbled across a pile of old National Geographic magazines in the bargain bin. It is almost unfathomable now to imagine that once upon a time, people would receive their dose of new worldly knowledge when the latest print magazine arrived in their letterbox.

Nana and Poppa, Dads late parents, used to collect National Geographic magazines. In fact, I vaguely recall they received some kind of award for being the longest subscribers to the magazine in New Zealand. 

My grandparents used to live in Blenheim, which is at the top of the South Island of New Zealand. We lived in Wellington (bottom of the North Island) and used to stop in to visit them when we were driving past on school holidays. I recall everything in their house being so precious. We weren’t allowed to touch anything.

There was an ornate wooden dresser with stained glass windows for doors that housed crystal bowls in the hallway. There were doily's under everything. There were also these massive circular archways that separated the lounge from the kitchen and the front of the house to the front door. Poppa had even built a tiny replica of their house which stood proudly in the front garden and served as the letterbox. 

Every time we visited it was like visiting another world. It smelt different, things tasted different there. Now having kids, I can’t imagine how stressful it was for my parents to rock up with three kids. Everything was distinctly theirs and if we were lucky Nana would let us have a little tinkle on her electric organ. There were no toys for the kids to play with when we visited. They had one of those snake puzzle things that you can twist into different shapes but that was it.

There were no devices, no kids telly (unless you wanted to watch the news with the ads muted) but there was outside and a shit load of magazines. I remember thumbing through countless issues scanning all the photos and hoping that perhaps there would be something slightly rude for me and my siblings to giggle over.

It's a symbol of a different era of information when I see a pile of National Geographic’s in the bargain bin at the Op shop. One time they would’ve been the highlight of the month. A symbol of wisdom and expanding one's understanding of the world. Of keeping a breast of the latest global discoveries, especially in New Zealand which was so far away from the rest of the world for so long. I can imagine my grandparents getting the latest issue delivered into their miniature home letterbox and spending the next few days taking turns at reading it on their matching lazy boys, drinking black tea with a squeeze of lemon and exactly 2 tablets of artificial sweetener.  

There is something sad about the loss of consuming information like this. Small, regular doses in a real life magazine versus ‘the internet’. While the web has removed most of the barriers to entry (not that National Geographic was particularly expensive but getting it on subscription was the fancy in my young eyes) it’s also created a complete over-saturation of information where people don’t even know where to begin - so they don’t. They skim past everything and don’t worry about going deep because we can always google that later right?

Ten’s if not hundreds of people would’ve rifled past those National Geographic's and not batted an eyelid while I had a movie length flashback of memories from my childhood at my grandparents house. It wouldn’t have lasted more than a few seconds but it was vivid enough for me to hear the creaking spring in Nana’s lazy boy chair as she reclined and smell the equal tablets as they dissolved in her tea. The internet can never invoke these kinds of visceral images and memories.

I wonder about this for the kids. Their entire existence has been so ‘digital’. Recently I got a box of treasures and trinkets from Mum and Dads before they moved. It contained all manner of tactile mementos from my teenage years - movie tickets, notes passed in class, bus tickets, concert tickets, newspaper clippings, postcards, heartfelt letters, match boxes, hand written lyrics to songs, bubble gum wrappers, autographs from celebrities, party invitations and student ID cards. All of these completely useless and random objects are reminders of my youth. Of the people I used to hang out with. Of what was important to me. 

What happens when everything is online? When notes passed in class are text messages, movie tickets are QR codes, handwritten letters have been replaced with emails. While these digital methods are completely adequate (and in lots of cases, better) to achieve their desired outcome (ie, getting into the movies or telling a friend that you miss them) they don’t leave anything tangible behind. There is no ticket stub or hand written note. No actual memento. 

I think that's why I like Op shops so much. Everything has a story behind it. Some of them are small insignificant anecdotes but some are epic tales. You can never guarantee that an Op shop is going to have what you're looking for but if you're willing to dedicate some time then you’ll more than likely find a hidden gem that was once special to someone else. 

While the future of ‘things’ is looking more and more automated by the day I worry that we’re missing the opportunity to collect mementos to remind ourselves of what was once important to us. What will jog your memory 10, 15, or 20 years down the track about that first date or that great party? The idea of getting a monthly magazine about the latest discoveries in the world feels like a really calm and controlled way to consume information - call me old fashioned but maybe this is what we need more of.

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