Thirty years ago this week, you were fighting with your parents for the right to party. And, if you weren’t, my bawling balanced your atypical hush. When late capitalism made good on the inferred promise of private, transportable pleasure, most of us just couldn’t shut up.
Until we put our headphones on.
In the instant Sony released its Walkman on July 1, 1979, all of yesterday’s tomorrows collided with the present. Here, for the first time, was mobile, customisable consumer tech. A portent for our on-demand era, the device went on to sell more than 200 million units worldwide.
I was not the child of Lighthouse customers. So, I didn’t hear the death of static media until 1985. It was heralded, I recall, by a cassette of The Jesus and Mary Chain. Thank Christ (and the Holy Mother and all her auxiliary chains) that my parents were laggards. I might have heard the Top Down crash in the figure of Eddie Rabbit.
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As much as I now Love a Rainy Night and, indeed, that strange intimacy with what once we called a “personal stereo”, I suspect that something quite decent died inside me as I mouthed the words to Taste the Floor. Singing to myself, I became something less than civil.
The Walkman, of course, proved the ideal fixture for adolescence. With the right soundtrack, one can concurrently lard and loathe one’s life. As I lumbered through the centre of Canberra, unsurprising buildings were upturned to become the mise-en-scène of a John Hughes movie. In which, of course, I starred as a brilliant young woman whose eccentric loveliness was not overlooked by a sympathetic lens.
The Walkman gave me, and all other glum teenagers, nothing less than the power of cinematic narration. Further, it shut me up and probably gave my parents cause to reconsider prompt future purchase of consumer tech. All teenagers need the props of introspection. So, I never mind when I see some kid listening to Arcade Fire on his iPod recasting me as a bourgeois extra in a Wes Anderson film.
But I do mind when I see this lapse in civility persist into middle life.
There is nothing wrong with bespoke entertainment per se. It’s very nice, of course, to be able to sample a little of what you fancy. But when this repast occurs en masse and in civic space, it looks and sounds just like public gluttony.
The iPod, apparently, is an icon for the age. A flat, stylish, tabula rasa that remains inert until you ascribe it meaning and pay it some attention.
It reminds me of Paris Hilton. It reminds me that we are well overdue to exit adolescence.