Bye bye Walkman?

Let's not retire the gadget yet! The MP3 player that has replaced the Walkman is useless in villages across Pakistan.

Sascha Akhtar December 05, 2010
Leading British newspapers have announced the death of cultural symbols born of technology, that signal values of an era obsolete as if saying goodbye to dear friends. Nostalgia plays a huge part in this, for both the British and American cultures often find themselves mourning for times bygone. The current obsession with the show Mad Men in every sphere including fashion has, for example, been described in this way.

One such an announcement was made on the front pages of almost all the major publications recently, one variation read: “Walkman RIP, farewell to a cultural icon."

Sony, a Japanese company, has made the decision to cease production of the Walkman, a trademark for the portable stereo. Other companies that have manufactured these in the past JVC, Hitachi, Alba, Onkyo also seem to be disinterested in cassette-playing devices. The big business markets of Europe and the US that the entire world panders to no longer require these devices, and so speaks the law of supply and demand.

The UK Times states:

“Production stopped in Japan in April. A factory in China will continue production, for the small minority of slow-to-change consumers in Europe”. The Sony site itself however, mentions that this production is also for “some Asian countries”.

For some reason, this has made me want to go out and buy a Walkman immediately. Since I am from Pakistan, a so-called “third world country,” and have also experienced “first world” society, I am fortunate enough to understand the vast gulf and glaring disparities between the two in terms of “modernity,” and “progress,” using for the purposes of this piece the Western measures of both.

So, we have advanced! But to my mind, this so-called advancement means nothing. I don’t see any advancement as long as a handful of people are bleeding the resources of the earth dry for the sake of their own, at the expense of the rest of the world.

I mean, for one thing, I don’t take electricity for granted. It is almost as if a country like Pakistan is a version of the past, and the US or Britain are possible versions of the future. We are lucky, because we have the opportunity to peer into possible futures and decide exactly what we may or may not want from our future.

But back to the Walkman. It is a fact that there are major pockets of Pakistan where people have either one or any combination of the following: poverty, no running water or no electricity. You do not even have to be poor to experience a life interrupted by the dearth of electrical supply, something that no society in a “first world country” knows anything about. Would a nice little Walkman/personal stereo with some AA/AAA batteries not provide some hint of joy if you have nothing else?

The MP3 player that represents the brave new world that has out-moded the Walkman (and certainly any form of cassette tape player will follow) relies not only on electricity but also 100 per cent on the person owning a computer. They are by no means self-reliant, independent machines of music.

Cassette tapes can still be bought in Pakistan, and tapes and tape players are what keep taxi drivers and truck wallas going on their journeys. They’re going to be hard-pressed to start sporting sleek iPods on their dashboard. For their sake, I hope the cassette tape and the devices associated with it stay around as long as they are needed. In fact, if anything tells us that we need to develop our own manufacturing industries, it is things like this. Solar-powered goods, in particular, would suit Pakistan quite well.

It is surreal that the current era we live in is now divided into the cassette-tape using world and the non-cassette-using world. One side of the world is mourning the loss of a symbol that portrays a bygone era, and us- we are the bygone era! I, for one, am going out and buying “the last of the walkman personal stereos” (according to Sony, this is the “correct” plural form, rather than "Walkmans" or "Walkmen”), for a time when there is no electricity left in the world and I want to take a walk and listen to that Kate Bush tape.
Sascha Akhtar A London based poet and photographer
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


Bawa | 13 years ago | Reply As it turns out, the IPOD device is going outdated - thanks to cheap Mp3 playing cell phone. Even Car Mp3 player have lost their value. It is far cheaper to connect you cell phone with a FM transmitter than to go in for a Car Mp3 player. Also cheaper car Mp3 players come with system problems that cannot be repaired. The big problem with stand alone car Mp3 players is loss of an important functionality like tape or even CD. A cheap FM transmitter keeps the functionality at far less price. The cassette will comeback in a full circle due to other reasons. Mp3s are more of charity. You cannot make money out of Mp3. CDs are the easiest devices for the production of Torrents. The tape medium make music sharing the most difficult requiring ripping devices. As it turns out tape-only releases have been increasing over the last several years, so have sales of blanks from TDK and Maxell.
Jan | 13 years ago | Reply Walkman is not really dead. Chinese companies have the manufacturing license. They will have the last laugh at these so called obituaries. Walkman /cassette / tape equipment are presently largely stocked by online shops like Amazon, Ebay, Rediff, Rakuten etc. They only way to kill the cassette is to try to kill the internet. As long as the internet is alive, cassettes and walkman will continue to cell. A word about the thing called "IPOD" - outdated. Your cell phone is the new ipod. Today virtually every cheap cell phone plays MP3. The deal works lot cheaper than a car Mp3 player. Transmitting devices come very cheap online - you hook your cell phone to them to play Mp3. You retain the cassette/CD functionality. As far as MP3 is concerned - they are no longer special - You have MP3 playing shoes, Mp3 playing transmitters, cell phone, toilets, crosses, key chains etc. The expensive car Mp3 has just a piece become junk! Cassettes have something special - they are scratch resistant and extremely durable - no more hiss problems of last decade. Cassettes are better than CDs to record Mp3 as you may have to throw away the scratch prone CD in a few years. Memory devices are not always convenient to carry - most import they get reset when moved. Cassettes are the only self bookmarking medium which dont require any power.
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