When I was 8, I got a knock-off version of a Walkman for my birthday and considered myself made. At that age, a few things seemed able to confer instant adulthood the moment they became mine. Sunglasses, trench coats, Walkmans, digital watches. I showed it off at a family dinner and was infuriated with my grandmother, who insisted that my cutting-edge machine from the future was clearly a wonderful comeback of the wireless sets of the 1940s: “They had headphones, too — better for hearing.” Time has its revenges: now a 13-year-old is stunned to encounter what looks like a small gray brick which, he is told, used to be all the rage.
It took me three days to figure out that there was another side to the tape. That was not the only naive mistake that I made; I mistook the metal/normal switch on the Walkman for a genre-specific equaliser, but later I discovered that it was in fact used to switch between two different types of cassette.
I managed to create an impromptu shuffle feature simply by holding down ‘rewind’ and releasing it randomly
Another notable feature that the iPod has and the Walkman doesn’t is “shuffle”, where the player selects random tracks to play. Its a function that, on the face of it, the Walkman lacks. But I managed to create an impromptu shuffle feature simply by holding down “rewind” and releasing it randomly – effective, if a little laboured.
To be honest, I can’t really remember what was so exciting about the Walkman. I remember that in that naive period, electronics makers thought they could convince the customer that any device was portable so long as it had a handle on it.