Recently, the mainstream media announced the “retirement” of Sony’s cassette Walkman. After 30 years, the world’s first low-cost portable music player would cease manufacturing and distribution.
I have to admit, the announcement evoked a quick wave of nostalgia, even though this was a product I never actually owned.
You see, my first Walkman wasn’t really a Walkman… it was a knock off. My parents were too practical to pay name brand prices for things their three children would lose, break, or ignore after a few months. My portable tape player was pink and had big foam wrapped headphones, with a metal headband that I suspect would’ve generated lawsuits nowadays for all its pressing sharpness and hair pulling. I didn’t care about any of these things if it meant some isolation from my two brothers in the backseat of our family’s Cutlass Supreme. For this, I could deal with the occasional unraveling tape, or the slow, deep timbre a low battery would give my Paula Abdul songs. Besides, I didn’t know what technology was to come.
Now, I’m utterly spoiled. I get irritated when a Sony ear bud—slightly misshapen in relationship to my ears—falls out when I am running on the treadmill with my iPod. There are so many updates to download, so much synching to do… Sometimes my playlists stagnate for a few weeks and I get bored with them. Sometimes my battery doesn’t last long enough and I grumble about battery calibration and how often I have to charge this tiny white digital box that has my whole life in it.
Spoiled is the right word to use in this scenario, too. I deserve it, because I forget about the 7-year old with the pale pink respite from brothers and their endless sports chatter. It’s funny how quickly we become molded by the convenience that comes with our little treasures, and forget what it was like to never have them. Before power locks and cell phones we simply checked our doors and stuck to our plans.
I had the opportunity to see a live performance from comedian Louis CK a few years back. If you’re like me, you appreciate CK’s assessment of American culture and how quickly we take for granted the technological marvels that have only recently come into our lives. In an interview with Time magazine last year, he sums it up:
“If you had a jetpack, you’d be like, ‘I have the sh----est jetpack. I can’t believe I got this jetpack. Who’s your service provider? Did they make the new one? Hate this thing, it sucks.’ Then we’d all sit there and talk about that."
CK's ultimate point is most interesting in the context of the recession: Maybe our want for things in the wake of these economic struggles has been a decent reminder of how deluded we’ve become by the concept of our “rights” to technological convenience. Maybe we could stand to be reminded that convenience is a privilege we’ve simply adapted to… not a right. If I could trade my iPod for my pink portable cassette player again—just for one day—it would probably be worth the chinks to my sense of entitlement. And I guess I could get over the bulky reminder of obsolescence, just as long as it fits in my jetpack.