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The social impact of the Walkman

Dave Pell talks about social impact of the Walkman:

The Walkman and its offspring, such as the iPod, completely changed the way we experience music. And even more compelling, these devices also had a huge impact on the way we interact (or don’t interact) with each other. Before the Walkman, listening to music was quite often something we did together. Headphones and portability changed that. The very same sounds that had been a cornerstone of our social experience suddenly transformed millions of us into isolated walking zombies.

I imagine this is a paragraph many people can identify with:

I’ve known my wife since we were in high school. We’ve been married for more than a decade. And we’ve never once looked at each other and said, “They’re playing our song.” And after talking to a few other couples, I don’t think we’re all that unique. She has her songs. I have my songs. Our only modern equivalent to having a shared song is when one of us retweets the other.

3 Comments

  1. I always liked that the early Walkman models had two headphone jacks, but it wasn’t exactly convenient anyway.

  2. As someone with musical tastes very far from what’s popular, I will stick up for headphones. Personally, I’m into things like extreme death metal, noisecore, and generally stuff that doesn’t go over well with 90% of people. I also find mainstream music about as revolting and unpleasant as most people seem to find my preferred music. I can barely stand going to most bars because I don’t want to be forced to listen to whatever horrifically lame music they insist on blasting at me.

    Sharing music via public loudspeakers is a case of tyranny of the majority and often, the only way I can opt out is to be a shut-in and avoid public places (I actually go well out of my way to avoid grocery shopping during holiday season because of how violently unpleasant I find Christmas carols to be).

    Headphones are practically a necessary part of my relationship with my girlfriend. Our musical tastes don’t overlap but we’re both very much into music and like to listen to it a lot. If headphones didn’t exist, we probably wouldn’t be able to be together, or we’d be fighting a lot, or we’d be forced to choose between being together and listening to music that we like.

    So I, for one, am eternally grateful to headphones for sparing me from at least some of what the Musical Majority feels like trying to cram down my throat.

  3. Interesting. I have the exact opposite experience – we have tons of music that we’ve listened to together. I think that’s partly because we met at Burning Man where our camp pretty much always has music playing, and partly because we took a lot of road trips where we played music together. In fact I’ve almost never seen her use headphones and I only use them on my commute and at work.

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