Sony Walkman turns 30: memories of an iconic gadget

Before the Walkman, magnetic tape recorders in the home were typically relegated to the realm of standalone components the size of TiVo today

Sony's D-50 Walkman

Sony's D-50 Walkman

A True Changing of Tech Habits

I used the Walkman while studying, while on the schoolbus, to pass the time while working in the basement stacks at the library; later in life, I couldn't survive the L.I.R.R. commute without a Walkman to pass the time. Over the years, I learned to create my own mix tapes starring my favorite artists and tracks. Those tapes, and all of the blanks I consumed to create those tapes, were the precursor to the mix-CDs and iTunes playlists I'd create in the future (both of which required me to consume a different type of media). The original TPS-L2 got my imagination going, too. As a consumer I began to dream that if I could take my music with me in a Walkman, why not my video? (Yes, Sony did produce the Watchman mini-TV, but that was nowhere near the portability I envisioned.) Never mind how huge those early top-loading VCRs were in the '80s: I wanted to take my movies with me. It took until the Apple iPod Video made video playback easy and realistic that portable video really gained legs.

The TPS-L2 was my first Walkman, but it was certainly not my last-I probably went through about 10 models over two-plus decades. Some were slim, some had FM and TV tuners, some could record, one was even waterproof. The TPS-L2 was built like a tank, though: It still works. Upon further thought, its last repair a decade and change ago was rather quaint: I had to replace the belts inside, as they'd dried up with age. I remember turning it into a fix-it project with my dad-yes, just like with old cars, it once was possible for mere humans to exact a repair on an electronic device.

While I've long since switched to the joys of digital music, the Sony Walkman is one of the few gadgets I can look back on and trace how it changed my behavior and interaction with an electronic device. And of the others, even fewer stand out by name like the Walkman does.

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Melissa Perenson

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