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The End (and Beginning) of an Era

November 18, 2010

I read an article from the online magazine Slate about the recent decision by Sony to discontinue production on the Walkman portable cassette player, more than 30 years after its inception. The article goes on to explain the Walkman’s importance in pop culture history, as well as its cultural significance.

I had never given much thought before as to how the Walkman has changed and shaped culture through the last 30 plus years, but the points raised by the article opened my eyes.

Think about it: before the Walkman, music was (mostly) a social medium. People had to listen to music through a stereo, the radio or live at a concert surrounded by people.

Now you can drive an hour to work or school, walk from your car, and sit all day while listening to music in your own little world. Most people today don’t meet together to sit around and listen to an album or song (that’s what movies are for).

With advances in hardware & software over the past 30 years since the introduction of the Walkman, one can create and manipulate their own music universe, where only their favorite songs play while others that don’t make the cut are cast out.

It’s a microcosm of society as a whole: we want to think, feel and exist independent of others (it’s what America was founded on, right?).

We say things like: “Good fences make good neighbors,” rather than get to know one another. We create man-caves and game rooms, personal spas and deluxe kitchens, not so that we can entertain and serve others, but so that we can be entertained and served.

We simply love having a place to call our own; why should our music-or music players- be any different? We live in the Age of Customization, where anything and everything seemingly needs to be a reflection of who we are as individuals (both in fashion & function). Even if no one else ever gets to hear the song you’re listening to while sitting at a coffee shop, it still helps you feel unique.

The Walkman did not create our modern suburban culture, but rather is an extension of it. It is an expression of our desire to be alone in our own world, where we are gods, choosing what stays and what goes.

While the Walkman has been discontinued, its legacy will live on indefinitely.

It’s important to note that when it first came out, the Walkman came with 2 ports for earphones. Try getting 2 people today to agree on a song, let alone walk close enough to not unplug their earphones.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 18, 2010 11:34 am

    Actually, the Walkman was introduced in 1979. As much as I love having a digital storehouse of music, part of me really misses the art and craft of making mixtapes.

  2. November 18, 2010 2:40 pm

    Thanks, Josh. I made the appropriate changes. I’m a big fan of the pre-MP3 era, where you could actually touch albums and flip through the lyrics. Those were the days…

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