You'll never walkman alone, again

You'll never walkman alone, again


norman lebrecht

October 25, 2010

Sony have announced the end for one of its trademark inventions, the oh-so portable personal Walkman which ensured that we shall have music wherever we go.

Two hundred million sales later, the machine has been rendered obsolescent and consigned to the Sony museum. Some may feel regreat at its passing. I, who tried out protoype models some 30 years ago, am happy to see it go without a sniff of regret – as I shall explain on the BBC World Service tonight.

The Walkman, I once wrote, turned music from a social pursuit to an anti-social activity. It promoted autism and isolation with consequences yet untold.

The iPod, on the other hand, is about sharing. You are more likely to hand your iPod to a friend, or take one earpiece each to hear a track, than ever you would with a Walkman. It presents music in a jumble that is uniquely yours. The iPod is my music, a reflection of who I am. The Walkman was aways theirs.


  • RichardB says:

    iPod, Walkman, whatever – I couldn’t bear listening to music on headphones against a barrage of background noise then; I cant bear it now. And hearing the tinny buzz from someone else’s speakers on a bus or train prompts thoughts of murder. Both devices turn music into a disposable, value-less atmospheric pollutant.
    Is ubiquitous music, everywhere, all the time, really such a good thing? I’m increasingly with Stockhausen; the act of listening to or making music should be something special, something requiring mental preparation and concentration, ideally a communal act. A “sacred” act, if you like.

  • Yi-Peng Li says:

    Mr. Lebrecht, if Sony has discontinued the Walkman, might there be a chance that the Discman too might become obsolete one day?

  • lovely notes says:

    And what about these wonderful nostalgic tapes that one used to record and give to loved or “to be loved” ones, as a token of affection?
    When I look at these tapes today I have a strong feeling and lasting memory of bond through time and towards people.
    And what about these hours on school busses when we used to listen to music together on headphones?
    Is this completely strange to you?
    In an odd way I have the impression that not these listening and sharing habits imply a notion of loneliness or “anti-social behaviour”, but your very own viewpoint.

  • Tristan Jakob-Hoff says:

    RichardB – I just want to say, I agreed with you about listening to music on the go for a long time, but eventually bought some decent headphones and changed my mind. There are various ‘in-ear’ headphones available from the likes of Etymotic and Shure that offer outstanding noise reduction (they work in the same way as sticking your fingers in your ears works) and high-quality performance. They don’t have any issues with ‘sound leakage’ either.
    Worth checking out. I started on the £60-ish Etymotic ER-6i and would recommend them to anyone with an interest in classical music. As for creating that special mental space for listening, I can highly recommend the closing of one’s eyes.