Gadget Flashback: 1983 Sony Walkman

Screenshot 1983 Sony Walkman from commercial

Watching this Sony Walkman commercial from 1983 gives us a glimpse of the most popular and influential gadgets from the 80s. Forty years ago we lived in the analog age. Things we take for granted today just weren’t possible, though that didn’t stop some brilliant innovations that gave us beloved devices like the Walkman.

Before the Walkman, we did have portable music, but that involved transistor radios. It’s hard for young people now to appreciate just how important the radio was back then. That’s how you got most of your music, and certainly your portable music.

But of course you had little control over what you heard, beyond selecting your favorite radio station. The Walkman changed all that, as suddenly you could create your favorite mix tape (we call them playlists now) and listen wherever you wanted with your Walkman.

How was the Sony Walkman invented?

The Sony Walkman, the world’s first personal stereo, was born in 1979 thanks to the creativity of one man: Akio Morita. He was inspired by a simple idea—to make it easier for people to listen to music wherever they went.

Morita took existing technology and put it in a small, portable case about the size of a pocketbook. It included two headphone jacks so that you could share your jams with your friends! The original Walkman even had an option to record from the radio or cassette deck on cassettes that were specially designed for it. You can see in the commercial above that by 1983 the Walkman was shrunk to the size of a cassette case.

It wasn’t long before everyone wanted their own “personal soundtrack” and soon enough, thousands of people around the world were walking around with their own mini stereo systems. The Sony Walkman became an instant classic, and it forever changed the way we listen to music.

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Your Ears Aren’t In Control

Sony Ericsson earbud guy.As predicted, Sony Ericsson’s great announcement for September 21st was underwhelming; it was so underwhelming, in fact, that I forgot all about it. I didn’t even think to look for it until today when I saw a drawing that vaguely resembled the creepy dude from the original website.

So what was the big announcement? Earbuds controlled by your ears! If it sounds confusing, that’s because it is. One big confused mess that reminds me just how out of touch tech companies can be. The new headphones, called the MH907, work by sensing how many buds are in your ears. Plug in two headphones and your music starts playing. Unplug one to pause your music. If you get a phone call you can take out both earbuds and then plug one back in to answer. To hang up, pull an earbud out, then put both earbuds in to start the music back up.

I think everyone has the same question here: why invent a product that requires a string of gestures to replace one-click functionality. You know what I do if I’m listening to music on my phone and I need to pickup an incoming call? I press “Answer Call.” Just once. To start my music back up, I press “Play.” That’s it. No plugging and unplugging. No pointless ad campaign to point out a worthless product. Just one of those button things we’ve been hearing about for so many years.


Sony Ericsson Claims To Change The Way You Listen To Music Forever

Sony Ericsson guy.We can pretty much guarantee this latest marketing campaign from Sony Ericsson will end in all sorts of fail. It starts with a web campaign, apparently called “Put Your Ears In Control.” The site features a goofy looking animated character with just one sentence across the screen:

Come back here on the 21st of September to see how the way you listen to music changes forever.

I know this sort of language isn’t exactly rare in the tech world, but give me a break. Forever? Hell, changes? This would have to be something truly radical to make the kind of impact the webpage suggests. I literally have no idea what Sony Ericsson could be talking about. Even if Sony put all the power of the Walkman behind whatever device will probably be launched, it still wouldn’t change much, and most certainly not the way I listen to music or the forever of that hobby.

Check back on the 21st for more of me mocking Sony Ericsson for making ridiculous statements about an underwhelming device.


13-Year-Old Trades iPod for a Walkman

Scott Campbell and his mom.This article from the BBC’s The Magazine is quickly making its rounds and it’s definitely worth the read. The author, 13-year-old Scott Campbell, was given a Walkman by his father. The near ancient artifact was meant to replace Scott’s iPod for a full week, after which he could return to his digital life.

Scott had some interesting observations/struggles in dealing with his old technology. Here’s a few excerpts:

*It took me three days to figure out that there was another side to the tape.
*As I boarded the school bus, where I live in Aberdeenshire, I was greeted with laughter.
*[on battery life]; it is nearly completely dead within three hours of firing it up. Not long after the music warbled into life, it abruptly ended.

We’re probably not too far from seeing those things all but extinct, as in, unable to find almost anywhere. I have to wonder, should I be saving my 3rd generation iPod to show my son someday? What will his music experience look like?

I’m lucky enough to live up the street from a store called Big Fun that sells old toys, video games, and general nostalgia, so I can get my paleolithic tech fix whenever I want. Where do you get yours?