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Rhythm and soul: Walkmen

By Kathleen McWilliams
On April 16, 2014

If you haven't seen the video that went viral this morning of kids between the ages of 5 to 12 trying to figure out what a Sony Walkman is, stay away and preserve your sense of youth. Watching the video this morning, I found myself reflecting on all the different types of portable music technology and I realized that it has been 10 years since I got my first iPod. Scary.
Unless you haven't taken full advantage of the internet, you're pretty familiar with the concept of the "Kids React To..." videos. Whether its lemons, funny videos or outdated technology, the videos are hilarious and the segment about the Walkman was equally funny. The kids thought it was a tape recorder, a boom box or simply couldn't make head or tails of it. The black box covered in buttons that most kids are unfamiliar with (rewind, radio) was chunky and so heavy that most of the kids thought it was cumbersome. It reminded me how technology doesn't age well.
On music devices now, we expect a certain level of technology. Even the first generation iPods were free of the clunky push down buttons the Walkman had. The click wheel allows simple easy access to your music and the touch screen functions of modern iPods allow you to access your music at the touch. The buttons that baffled the kids in the video are completely obsolete in modern technology. Even TVs have streamlined buttons and some even have touch screen remotes. For the entirety of a 12-year-old's life the simplicity of a touch screen or click wheel was the method to access music.
Stylistically, iPods are sleek and compact. The Walkman weighed 14 oz. and was made of cheap black plastic. If you dropped your Walkman while jogging, it would crack. Though iPods have less durability with the touch screens, at least the iPod Classic and Mini were made of metal that would hardly dent after being dropped down a full flight of stairs.
As I watched the video, I couldn't help but reminisce about my own history with portable music devices. I started out with a Walkman, one of the original from the 80s, that actually had to plugged into the wall to work. It was portable as far as the cord went. I had a huge pair of my Mom's old over the ear headphones which doubled as speakers. I'd hang them on my headboard or the chain of my ceiling fan and blast Queen at all hours of the afternoon. Later, my sister received a portable CD player for her birthday and boy, was I jealous. You could put a CD in and pretty much go anywhere. For a few years I shared it with her (Thanks Caroline!) or stole it more likely (sorry Caroline!).
I'm always of the opinion that technology can't get any better. What is the next step for music technology? You tell me.

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