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whether they are in touch with reality or separated from it?”, in which an interviewee responds that the question is outdated, that “these are the days of autonomy and an intersection of singularity and discourse” This observation came across quite strongly to me, as here is a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.
History.com Staff, 2009 “The first Sony Walkman goes on Sale”, A+E Networks, http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/the-first-sony-walkman-goes-on-sale
Sandoval, G 26th October 2010, “Goodbye Walkman; Thanks for the iPod”, cnet.com http://www.cnet.com/au/news/goodbye-walkman-thanks-for-the-ipod/