The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

RIP the Walkman

And now a moment of silence — literally — as a once-beloved icon of the ’80s is laid to rest:

Sony will stop selling its Walkman portable tape player in Japan, the land of that once-iconic device’s birth. That’s “weirdest” not in the sense of “I can’t believe Sony won’t make those things anymore,” but in terms of “I can’t believe Sony still sells those things.”

The company quietly announced the news Friday in Japan, where it had continued to sell a lineup of tape players after yanking them from the U.S. market. (The company will still sell tape players in some countries in Asia and the Middle East.) The announcement sparked a round of remembrances across the Web that add up to far more attention than the Walkman has seen in recent years–aside from the occasional ironic mention in the Onion.


But rewind 25 years (pretend you hear the whir of cassette tape spooling by as you read this), and it was another story. Those of us who grew up in the Reagan Decade know: By six years after its 1979 debut, the Walkman had become the iPod of its day. Much like Apple’s music player, Sony’s gadget was near-ubiquitous, got a little smaller over subsequent revisions, and had cheaper competitors that Weren’t Quite The Same Thing.

My first “walkman” may have been one of those off-brands; I don’t know for sure. I do remember that it was the first hand-held electronic device I owned. And that I managed to drop and scratch it within weeks–an experience I have since reenacted with numerous other gadgets.


The Walkman eventually begat its CD successor the Discman, and then ever-more-compact DAT and MiniDisc models. (Before you all scoff at how that format flopped in the U.S. after brief flashes of potential, recall that it was huge in Japan; on a 1998 visit to Tokyo, I was floored by the massive numbers of miniaturized MD Walkmen for sale in Akihabara’s electronics markets.) There have even been video Walkman players, notwithstanding the difficulty of walking while watching video.


You can read more here.

And enjoy the flashback, below:


Comments read comments(5)
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Mike Hayes

posted October 25, 2010 at 11:22 am

I tease my wife all the time, who is a bit old-um, more experienced in remembering these now ancient artifacts. When we record something on the DVR she’ll always ask me: “Did you tape How I Met Your Mother” and I’ll snark back:
“We haven’t used tape in years, dear.”
Let’s just say it takes a few nights but the couch is now somewhat more comfy–especially when the dog curls up behind my knees.

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posted October 25, 2010 at 1:30 pm

The ad ended with this groovy Altered Images hit.

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posted October 26, 2010 at 1:37 pm

I wonder what will be replacing I-Pods in 25 years? I think by then they will be implanting devices directly into the brain or ear, plugging us into the 24/7 stream of entertainment and media. I can’t talk to my daughters without having to complain about their constant texting and their ever-plugged earphones!

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posted October 26, 2010 at 9:54 pm

Haha, my dad said he used to have one of those when he was 10. Why would they even still be making them, at least why were they still making them? I have never even seen one of those things that go inside it.

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Regina Faighes

posted October 27, 2010 at 9:28 am

In the 1985 movie, “European Vacation,” (which for those too young to remember) was a comedy about an American family that won a free trip to Europe)there is a scene in which the middle-aged Mom and Dad (played by Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo)are exasperated with their teenage son, Rusty who is spending an entire scenic railway journey plugged into his Walkman. He’s singing and bopping to the music and totally ignoring his family and the gorgeous scenery outside his window. I realize this is a fictitious story; however there is some truth to it. In the 1980s, middle-aged parents, who had grown up at a time when television watching, which is something in which the entire family often participated together, was the only electronic distraction, took it as a given that a vacation or an outing was an opportunity for family members to communicate with one another and interact with one another. They regarded their teenagers who were tuned into their Walkman and tuned out to those around them as rude and disrespectful. Now, 25 years later, those teenagers are middle-aged parents of teenagers of their own. Unlike their parents before them, they not only are tolerant of their children being plugged into an I-Pod during a family outing, they themselves are plugged into one too (or, perhaps into an “old school Discman). It is not unusual to walk into a restaurant and see Mom, Dad, and the children sitting around the table for Sunday dinner, with all four people plugged into either an I-Pod or a Discman or yacking or texting away on a cell phone. They are all seated around the same table but they might as well be in separate continents for the lack of interaction. The Walkman might be fading into oblivion but the legacy of damage that it spawned appears to be here to stay!

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