musings on music, travel, books, and life from Southeast Asia

At my bookshop I’ve noticed a new breed of shopper in the past couple of years. Clearly, there is a generational divide among customers nowadays.

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The older customers will sometimes consult hand-written or printed notes to assist with their book buying, while the younger generation almost always prefers using their phones. I see these young customers (mostly those under 30) wandering down the aisles, clutching their smart phones and staring at the screen, looking up occasionally to peruse the bookshelves. The odd thing about these smart phone users, however, is that a high percentage of them seem to have no idea how to actually find a book on the shelves! Give them a smart phone or sit them in front of a computer and they can surf and click and download with ease. But ask them to find a book in a well-organized shop and they are lost.

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It’s sad — well, actually, it’s fairly comical sometimes — to watch these people stare helplessly at the bookshelves as they try and find the image the matches that on their screen. They ask things like “Do you have this book?” — thrusting the phone in my face — or “Do you have anything by Paulo Coelho?” In most cases, we’ll reply “Yes, it’s right there in front of you”, or “Yes, it’s filed under the letter “C”. That only puzzles them further, so we end up having to walk them over and pull the book out for them. Not all shoppers are this clueless. Most older customers, those who have been buying books for decades, seem to have no problems finding what they want and will rarely require assistance, but it’s become increasingly obvious that navigating a brick and mortar store is a challenge for many younger ones.

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What the hell? Is it really that difficult? Honestly, I’m totally puzzled by these befuddled smart phone shoppers. I keep my shop very well organized, filing the books alphabetically by the author’s last name, and allotting separate sections for various genres of fiction and non-fiction. It’s not like there is no rhyme or reason to the system. Maybe the section dividing gets confusing for some shoppers, but surely not the alphabet? Then again, you go into some Thai-operated shops and they are either totally disorganized or they will file the book by the author’s first name instead of their last!

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But hey, at least these people are actually looking for books and buying books, as opposed to downloading digital copies online. So for that, I am grateful. Nevertheless, there still exist the troublesome cousins of the smart phone users, the laptop cretins. While the smart phone shoppers can be amusing, the ones that bring laptops into the shop and sit for hours — yes, 3 or 4 hours at a time is not uncommon! —- while nursing a single cup of coffee and hogging precious seating space, are the ones that are infuriating. These slugs sit there and tap away on their laptops —- working, studying, playing, who knows what they are doing — believing that that they are entitled to do whatever they want for as long as they want, oblivious to the fact that they are monopolizing the only table in my shop. Lately, I’ve run very short on patience and I’ve resorted to telling the laptop squatters that we are a bookshop and not a public library, so we cannot accommodate — or tolerate — people that want to hang out and kill time for hours. In other words, hit the road!

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Despite my increasing annoyance with some of the people frequenting my bookshop, most days are blissful. The majority of the customers are a pleasure to have; interesting, delightful, and polite people, curious about the world and wanting to learn more — and read more — about things. As long as the nice people outnumber the creepy ones, I’ll look forward to opening the shop each day.

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