Kids these days, having grown up used to digitial music players that weigh less than four ounces and can be concealed in the palm of a child’s hand, probably don’t realize that technology had to go through a lot of steps before it looked like it does today. Here are some amusing and nostalgia-inducing observations of a British teenager who traded his iPod for his father’s Walkman on the thirtieth anniversary of that device’s release.
I suppose some of the things that he encountered on that device would be non-obvious to a teenager today. It seems amazing that people would have spent fifty dollars, in 1979, for one of these things. But the technology was revolutionary for that period of time, and in terms of inflation-adjusted dollars, it’s about the same price as an MP3 player today. And the kid liked that there were two headphone jacks, so you could enjoy your music with a friend on it.
What may also not be obvious to him was that back in the late 1970’s when these things were first introduced, people who used them in the presence of others (i.e., in an elevator, at the mall) were widely thought to be behaving rudely. They were appropriate for jogging or other solo activities, but that was about it.
Today, we would call jogging with a walkman “cross-training.” One form of cross-training is to jog while carrying weights in your hands. After you added four AA batteries and a cassette tape, the contraption weighed something like five pounds. That rendered the belt clip something of a bad joke by Sony on joggers worldwide — the Walkman would stay on a regular belt that had been cinched up tight enough to restrict blood circulation to the pelvis, but otherwise the belt clip on this thing was a joke. If you tried to clip it to to the side of your dolphin-fin jogging shorts or put it in a pocket, the weight of the device would drag whatever you were wearing below your waist right on down to your ankles, with the taut headset cord snapping back into your face and the headphones getting flipped forward into your nose and mouth. And you couldn’t let it flop around, because the mechanical motion of jogging would cause the tape head to separate from the tape every time you took a step, so your music would be interrupted. So as a practical matter, you had to either invent some device to strap it to your chest or arm, or carry it in your hand, for it to be of any use while exercising.