Author: toddsteele8

University Slave- Bachelor of Communication & Media and Bachelor of International Studies. Aviation geek.

Walkman; An everlasting love?

Over the past couple of weeks, I have delved into studying the history of personal musical handsets, the way they were formulated into existence and the influence they have formulated into today’s generation of devices. As stated in the last post, these observations fall largely under the “Walkman Effect”; that is the influence that Sony’s device brought about from the late 1970’s and of which we still feel today.

The Walkman by no means was the first in it’s category to bring music portably to the individual; it was however the leader in a portable evolution, an evolution of our society and a revolution in technology. In 1978, Sony successfully consummated a compact playback device with lightweight headphones to create the first truly portable, personal technological device, as it was smaller and lighter than any other portable audio device on the market. In 1979, the ‘Walkman’ was introduced in the Japan, selling its entire stock of 30,000 units within the first three months. According to CBS;

“A Walkman cost $200.00 in 1979. Considering the average monthly rent in 1979 was $280.00, that’s a significant amount of money.”


One thing I did not know prior to undertaking this research was that in an attempt to get Japanese students to purchase the Walkman during their summer break, which coincided with the release in July 1979, Sony employees would walk the streets of Tokyo offering students and young people free samples of the Walkman, such as allowing them to walk a block with it on and then return it, of which gave valuable, if not supremely truth worthy, product endorsement.

Hosokawa’s 2008 article “The Walkman Effect” cites a study undertaken in the mid 1980’s by French magazine, Le Novel Observateur, where they ask whether “men with Walkman’s are human or not; whether they are in touch with reality or separated from it?”, in which an interviewee responds that the question is outdated, that “these are the days of autonomy and an intersection of singularity and discourse” This observation came across quite strongly to me, as here is a respondent, aged between 18-21 years old in mid-1980’s France, who states an argument that has been the lightning rod of marketing campaigns of every technology and media marketing campaign, from Apple to Warner Bros. That is that devices, in this case the Walkmen, are beacons of self-government and expression, of taking control of your surroundings but not excluding you from the world you are in.  I strongly agree with this sentiment, for as I am a dependent of public transport to go to and from University, a necessity is my phone and earphones, which are far more pivotal than an Opal card.

It is this reliance upon my mobile to provide me and my travelling counterparts with an escape from the mundaneness of the bus ride and the never-ending trip down Appin Road that underlines the importance, not reliance but importance, of innovation and technology. This too is the very reason, as mentioned in the previous post, why Sony initially developed the Walkman, to allow users a slice of escape during whichever activity the like; be it flights, bus trips, roller skating or just walking through the city.

During my research into these devices, my Mum just so happened to have kept her PYE Companion 5000 Stereo Cassette portable radio from her late teens-early adult years. It’s large, chunky and heavy by todays standards, but you have got to appreciate the finesse that went into the device, from the deep blue leather case, to the spongey headset and the dual ability to play tapes and a FM radio. Below is a series of photos, and for a touch of the 21st century, a Samsung S5 belonging to my Grandmother, as this is Digital Asia and an iPhone won’t cut it.


As can clearly be seen, the size difference is astounding. Both devices have cases on them, however whilst you would need to clip the Companion onto your belt or into ones handbag, the Samsung can easily fit into your pocket or palm. The 16GB S5 can hold roughly 4,000 songs, which with the cassette player one would require roughly 266 cassette tapes as an equivalent. Try getting those onboard your next Qantas flight.


266 cassette tapes? Impressive.

Speaking of experience, during my flight to Los Angeles last November, I was presented with the option to plug my phone into my inseat-enteetainment system, so if I chose to, I could listen to my music or view my photos via the tv screen in front of me.
So has the Walkman left a mark upon our society? Undeniably yes. In his book, Boy meets Boy, David Leviathan states “O Lord, as I walk through the valley of the shadow of doubt, at least let me wear a Walkman”, as the central character uses the device to provide motivation and an escape from embarrassment. According to former Apple CEO John Sculley;
“I remember Akio Morita (Sony founder) gave Steve and me each one of the first Sony Walkmans. None of us had ever seen anything like that before because there had never been a product like that… Steve was fascinated by it. The first thing he did with his was take it apart and he looked at every single part. How the fit and finish was done, how it was built.” 
Steve and John weren’t the only ones fascinated by it, as Sony gave both of them and the world the concept of personal portable music, and that is something I have come to appreciate whilst researching this topic. You see, the Walkman, as a device, has faded into history, being uncompetitive against the current iPod and mobile phone mp3 files of today; however, the Walkman, as a tool of social revolution, is still with us. It’s design concept is still here, a box with headphones, has not changed, for if you were to look at the images of the S5 and the Companion 5000 we just examined, the main difference in facial design is size.
It is also worth noting that the Walkman is an excellent example as a representation of culture, and in 1997 theorists studying the Walkman coined the term “Circuit of Culture” as a means of analysing the impact the device hashed on contemporary society. The 5 factors; Representation, Identity, Production, Consumption and Regulation are all interconnected with one another and rely on each other to perform. For example, the conception of the Walkmans identity formed the way the device was consumed by buyers, and the production of the device was guided by the regulations of the day, in particular what could be taken onboard aircraft, for which the Walkman was initially designed for.
This concept is perhaps the most constructive and correct analysation of the Walkman, for it underscores the importance and impact it has had on our society, and it turn, the Circuit of Culture is now a standard model used to determine other impacts upon our society, such as the Playstation and the iPhone. Thus, the Walkman has undeniably left an everlasting, deep impact upon our social, technological and cultural industries, and 30 years on, it continues to do so.
Hosokawa, S. (2008) ‘The walkman effect’, Popular Music, 4, pp. 165–180. doi: 10.1017/S0261143000006218.
Du Gay, P., Hall, S., Janes, L., Madsen, A.K., Mackay, H. and Negus, K., 2013. Doing cultural studies: The story of the Sony Walkman. Sage.
Dodds, W.B. and Monroe, K.B., 1985. The effect of brand and price information on subjective product evaluations. NA-Advances in Consumer Research Volume 12.
Ellis, C., Adams, T.E. and Bochner, A.P., 2011. Autoethnography: an overview. Historical Social Research/Historische Sozialforschung, pp.273-290.
Ellis, C.S. and Bochner, A., 2000. Autoethnography, personal narrative, reflexivity: Researcher as subject.
Lloyd, D 26th June 2004, “A brief History of iPod”,,
Schlender, B 12th November 2001, “Apple’s 21st century Walkman”,, Staff, 2009 “The first Sony Walkman goes on Sale”, A+E Networks,

Sandoval, G 26th October 2010, “Goodbye Walkman; Thanks for the iPod”,

The Walkman Effect

Over the last few weeks, we have examined the role digitisation plays in various Asian societies and how they interact with those cultures, particularly Japan and South Korea. These two countries have advanced technological innovation that their efforts, both in the past and present, have produced profound impacts on both theirs and our own societies and cultures, a classical result of globalisation.

However, most of these innovations have come through the work of transnational corporations, such as Sony, Panasonic and Toyota. For my individual research project, I wanted to examine the effect these large, robust companies effect the rest of the world, and in keeping with the topics of digital Asia and autoethnography, I believe studying the history, impact and experience of Sony’s revolutionary Walkman would be a perfect fit.

As this investigation will be done under autoethnographic methodology, this, as explained by Ellis et al (2011) is the act of observing a cultural experience and discussing how your own personal cultural experiences affect the way in which you experience this, as well as drawing on “subjectivity, emotionality and the researcher’s influence on research”. I find autoethnography to be very fitting for something of this nature, as it draws upon my own experience and views of Japan’s digital/technological innovations, their industry and one of their finest creations- The Walkman. It also means that I will draw upon my experience using either a Walkman or something of similar nature, and understanding how it works and it’s functionality in comparison to todays mobile audio players, which owe their existence to this device.


The mobile audio device industry is currently undergoing an evolution of convergence, as mobile phones are becoming a more popular choice as their functions not only include those done by calculators and laptops, but also come with the ability to listen to audio files and the radio; a speciality that the Walkman instigated.

To understand the development of the Walkman, you will need to understand the differing cultures that were behind the production of it, and those who the producers were aiming to buy it. The Walkman came about at the request of Sony co-founder Masaru Ibuka, who wished to listen to Opera music during his long-haul flights to the United States and Europe. At the time, Ibuka would either have to request the airlines place his exact opera tracks into their sound system, which would of been an extensive and wasteful operation for airline inflight-entertainments at the time, or he would have needed to heave one of these around the aircraft and airports;


Whilst the nature of it’s purpose was exactly what Ibuka needed, it was too heavy and large to bring on international flights, so he requested that it merely be shrunk to fit on his belt. Eventually, the design and tape recorder divisions crafted an end result, a device that allowed the user to listen to the radio or their desired cassette tapes anywhere, anytime (as long as the appropriate batteries were installed)


The first Walkman, the grandaddy of them all.

Sony predicted it would only sell roughly 5,000 units per month; yet the Walkman would in fact sell roughly 25,000 in its first month alone (Time). At the request of Sony Chairman Akio Morita, all Walkmans were installed with a “hotline” switch, which immediately lowered the volume of the cassette/radio and amplified a microphone to allow users to have conversations with others without needing to take off their headphones, this was added as Morita feared the Walkman would be isolating to those in society (Patton 2003)


This is where the design, purpose and usage of the Walkman get’s into the socio-cultural differences of our world. In Japan, and Sony for that matter, the Walkman was designed to accompany travellers on long journeys or to be used in personal spaces, such as the office whilst doing work. In Western countries such as the United States, Europe, Britain and Australia, the Walkman was advertised as a “revolution” (as seen in the aforementioned advertisement) to how we went about our daily lives. Advertisements in the West, from the late 70’s to early 90’s, displayed a liberating, lifestyle-changing movement, which it ultimately did lead to. Take the first United States commercial;


 It displays the separation of society if one does or does not have a Walkman. If you have a walkman, everything becomes liberating, vivid and fun; whereas everything is mundane and boresome without it. I find this to be quite striking, as Japanese concerns, particularly elders and more conservative figures in society, believed that there indeed would be a separation like that seen in the video. However, it would be the opposite, as the Walkman was seen in Japan as being a narcissistic, anti-social device that transitions society to be closed off from one another.

These views are echoed even within our society today, with innovations such as the Google Glass causing concerns over safety and social behaviours. But did the Japanese have a point? Did this seemingly simple, yet magnificent, creation damage our social capabilities? And if so, why and how did it?

My research will look into an array of topics and questions, such as the evolution and impact of the Walkman, how it compares with today’s devices and what todays devices learn’t from it, as well as the social and economical footprint it has left. These will be done using various methodologies, such as observation (how and where people use their audio devices) and research efforts such as interviewing different generations and their experience/perceptions of mobile audio. It will also employ my preconceptions, experiences and tools to get an understanding of just how impactful the Walkman has been.


Ellis, C Adams, T E, Bochner, A P 2011, ‘Authoethnography: An Overview’, Qualitative Social Research, vol. 12, no. 1

Patton, Phil 2003 “Walkman”, 

Hair, M 2009, “A Brief History of the Walkman”,,,8599,1907884,00.html

Franze, C 2014 “The History of the Walkman: 35 years of iconic music listening”, The Verge

Reexamining the examination.

Retracing our thoughts back to my first post in DIGC330, Come game with me, let’s game, let’s game away, I have delved deeper into the concepts of both this subject, but too that of autoethnographic research. Firstly an autoethnographic recap, for it is;

“An approach to research and writing that seeks to describe and systematically analyses personal experience in order to understand Cultural experience.” Ellis. (2011)

In the first post, I expressed my thoughts and analyzation of the South Korean film, State of Play, which follows the personal and societal lifestyles Koreans  experience in their multi-million dollar gaming industry. As captured in this screenshot from the film highlighting the significance of these competitions;


One of the many thoughts I have processed since the last post is the comparisons of e-sports in Asia, such as South Korea & Japan, and those in the “West”, such as Australia & the United States. Take for example the earnings of top e-sport players in the aforementioned countries;

Australia (611 recognized players)

  1. Damian Chok, total career earnings (tce) $343,548.24
  2. Denholm Taylor, tce $56,709.57

United States (6755 recognized players)

  1. Peter Dager, tce $2,617,389.18
  2. Saahil Arora, tce $2,606,414.06

South Korea (1665 recognized players)

  1. Jae Dong Lee, tce $611,037.05
  2. Sang Hyeok Lee, tce $554,086.98

What I found fascinating is the tremendous difference between these nations, both in the number of players and the earnings. If one was to think about it, South Korea with it’s population of 50 million people, only has a thousand more players in e-sports (that are officially listed) compared to our six hundred from a population of a mere 23 million. This astounds me, as I knew of an e-sports industry here, but I knew much more about those in Korea, which I assumed were much larger than the figures show, which could be the case, but you get the drill.

As Chua (2006) writes in his work, East Asian Pop Culture,

“Investment in South Korean cultural capital has become big business in the region with Korean online multiplayer games consumed in China and Taiwan. Korean products such as film are now being consumed globally. Korea is also investing heavily in cultural and technological education ensuring that Korea is positioned globally for its innovation.”

For politically sensitive areas in Asia such as China to be open to the concepts to the enemy of their ally, North Korea, it is astounding to see the surge and unilateral interest in these esporting events. It is a unification of the masses, starting not from the top diplomats, but from the very members of society who partake in socio-cultural similarities, brushing politics aside to be unified behind the controller.

I too have thought further whether it was fair to paint the opinions of the gamers elders with the same brush; that is that they do not see the value in the sport nor do they consider it a serious career for their (predominantly) sons to make. I initially gave a quick thought to my experiences within the sports I have played, such as Basketball, AFL, NRL and Soccer, all of which I played over many years, even going to State finals for Basketball and National finals in Canberra for AFL. However not once did I seriously contemplate these as career choices, I was more intent on other passions, but I do know of kids who desperately wanted to become the next skateboarder, or surfer, or even golfer, only to be told by their elders that they should “focus more on school” or that “It’s just a phase you’ll grow out of”. So in drawing on these experiences, I do feel there is always going to be a prejudice by others that something isn’t important or valued enough to be considered career worthy. I only have to remember what my Nana tells me every time the Dragons are playing;

“These players today get paid too much for too little, when I was growing up, they all had proper jobs, such as policemen or butchers, some just served drinks at the local sports club, they didn’t just play football and create scandals like they do today.”

See the mention of proper? Even a revered sporting code such as NRL, with it’s deep history in NSW, can’t escape the belief that sports is not a proper career choice. But is that a worthy opinion? How long can these athletes keep playing for, be it esports or baseball, when do they retire?

It is issues and debates such as these that prove that when viewing foreign media and noticing the differences, that we delve deep in oneself to critically evaluate whether it is all that different at all. Let me know what you think in the comments below.



Chua, B.-H. ‘East Asian Pop Culture: Consumer Communities and politics of the National’, presented at Cultural Space and the Public Sphere: An International Conference, organized by Asia’s Culture Initiative, March 15-16, Seoul, South Korea, 2006. (via moodle)

Come game with me, let’s game, let’s game away.

In a world of over 6 billion people, the vast differences of culture and ideology categorise us into groups based upon perception, prejudice and personalities. These three P’s, as I like to call them, differentiate us from one another in ways that allow us to understand that there are differing values and customs held around the world; without them after all we would be the universe’s boringest party ever assembled.

Whenever we view someone or something as being similar or different from us, or being odd or plain scary, we must remember that when doing so, we are looking through our own experiences, presumptions and knowledge, thus subliminally creating comparisons from the start. This is something that I take great care in reminding oneself when I come across events, cultures or information that catch my eye. It too was mentioned by Chris in the tutorials prior to him playing the film which will be the main topic of this blog’s discussion, the 2013 South Korean film State of Play.


To say that State of Play was an eye-opening piece of artistic brilliance would be an understatement. The film follows the day-to-day life of professional South Korean video game players, or for a more accurate term; athletes, sportsman el al. I had an understanding already of how big video gaming was in Asia, specifically South Korea & Japan, be it through friends or other forms of media, but I must say that this film was the first time I looked deeper than just the tournament.

The tournament is focused around the game Starcraft, which attracts mass crowds, sells out stadiums and is a million dollar industry; complete with corporate sponsorship for the teams, many of which are made up of school-age boys given special leave from their educators to participate. That was the first surprise to me, as I have friends who have South Korean ancestry, and one of the things I knew prior to this viewing was how important and authoritarian the Koreans valued schooling. So to find out that students, or now ex-students, were given permisiooin to leave school, some at the age of 15, to play professional gaming was quite the eye-opener, as I could not imagine for a moment that we would even allow that for our sportsman and women be it AFL or Netball. According to the director;

“The micro-world of the StarCraft Pro League is like a mirror of South Korean society – a society so competitive that it almost seems logical that a simple video game would result in a professional competitive sport. South Korea is a country that aims high. It’s a country in full development that wants to prove itself on all levels – technologically, economically as politically.”

Now for those who are viewing this post from DIGC330 and wondering “Well yes Todd this is all well and good, but where is your statements on autoethnography?” I say wait no more.


Autoethnography is a form of qualitative research in which an author uses self-reflection and writing to explore their personal experience and connect this autobiographical story to wider cultural, political, and social meanings and understandings (Ellis 2004) So when viewing State of Play, if you have forever viewed sports as a bat and ball, or just a ball involved competition, you would begin viewing it with inner scoffs and wondering how anyone would seriously consider video gaming, or the correct term e-sports, an actual sport? If you manage to get past these prejudices, you will begin to realise just how mentally, physically and socially demanding this tournament is. For myself, the sports I have played were all ball-involved in some way, shape or form, however I can boast to have an open mind when it comes to appreciating the art that is training and preparation for events one holds dear; that is in this case the hundreds of thousands of young Koreans who devote their teenage years to something they truly believe in.

Whilst I can see the seriousness of this competition, having grown up in a generation where video gaming boomed in ways that many members of society enjoy it as both a passion and a pastime, the elder generations, such as those of the competitors parents, in Korea do not view it as a career or sport worth pursuing. During the filming, the only adults (that is about the age of 30) that take the gaming seriously are either the coaches or the corporate sponsors who most likely treat it as an investment rather than a shift in Korean societal thinking. One of the main players the film follows, Park Yo Han, is questioned by the elder males in his family, mainly his father and uncles, about when he plans to retire and take up a real job, such is their way of thinking.

Thus I felt that State of Play was an excellent film, both in it’s own right but too in challenging the preconceptions that those outside South Korea have of their esports industry, and too by showcasing the changes that are currently going in within the highly competitive, structured South Korean society.

State of Play film as viewed in DIGC330 tutorial.

Ellis, Carolyn. (2004). The ethnographic I: A methodological novel about autoethnography. Walnut Creek: AltaMira Press