Feature

Remembering the Sony Walkman

As Sony discontinues its iconic gadget after 31 years, pundits look back at the way it transformed music, dating, and the recording industry

Sony has finally decided to press "stop" on the production of its Walkman cassette player, acknowledging its irrelevance in a changing market. Though the company has sold 200 million of the iconic gadgets since July 1979, newer innovations (from MiniDisc players to Apple iPods) have eclipsed Sony's humble device. (Watch a local report about the death of the Walkman.) Here, pundits weigh in on the legacy of the world's first personal music system:

It revolutionized how we listened to music: If you're too young to remember the Walkman's debut, you can't fathom the wow-factor, says Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo. Not only was it easily portable, its tiny headphones provided "a surprising degree of audio fidelity." Until then, the boombox was the "only real way to listen to music on the go.""Walkman walks off the stage"

It spawned the mix-tape, revolutionizing courtship: The Walkman was the first device that let music fans tape songs off the radio, says Caroline Sullivan at The Guardian. "As long as it could be taped... it could be listened to anywhere." This advantage, in turn, inspired the mix tape, which "supplanted flowers" as "a way of impressing the object of one's desire." "Rewinding to the age of the Sony Walkman"

It inspired the iPod and, therefore, deserves respect: Apple's former CEO John Sculley recently recalled Steve Jobs being given a first generation Walkman, says Greg Sandoval at CNET, and obsessing over it like a child with a new toy. Arguably, that moment eventually gave rise to the iPod and quantum-leap improvements like "shuffle" (the Walkman meant fast-forwarding, "an inexact process that meant repeated stops to find the start of the desired tune").
"Goodbye Walkman, thanks for the iPod"

But it helped kill the music industry: The changes the Walkman wrought were not all for the best, says Jacob Ganz at NPR Music. It ushered in portability by "sacrificing sound quality for size and convenience" and made music seem like a "cheap commodity." Enter the mp3 and the collapse of the music industry. "No wonder we eventually decided that collection, and the ease of use, were more important than sound quality or art....""Good night, sweet Walkman"

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