The Walkman, forty years on

Matt Alt at The New Yorker:

Even prior to extended quarantines, lockdowns, and self-isolation, it was hard to imagine life without the electronic escapes of noise-cancelling earbuds, smartphones, and tablets. Today, it seems impossible. Of course, there was most certainly a before and after, a point around which the cultural gravity of our plugged-in-yet-tuned-out modern lives shifted. Its name is Walkman, and it was invented, in Japan, in 1979. After the Walkman arrived on American shores, in June of 1980, under the temporary name of Soundabout, our days would never be the same.

Up to this point, music was primarily a shared experience: families huddling around furniture-sized Philcos; teens blasting tunes from automobiles or sock-hopping to transistor radios; the bar-room juke; break-dancers popping and locking to the sonic backdrop of a boom box. After the Walkman, music could be silence to all but the listener, cocooned within a personal soundscape, which spooled on analog cassette tape.

Steve Jobs was obsessed with the Walkman when it was new technology in the early 80s. He didn’t want Apple to be IBM or Microsoft, he wanted it to be Sony. He fulfilled that ambition with the iPod and later the iPhone.

www.newyorker.com/culture/c…

Mitch Wagner @MitchWagner