The year was 1979 when the metal-cased blue-and-silver Walkman TPS-L2, the world’s first low-cost portable stereo, made its way to the sale counters in Japan. It was the first of its kind and it introduced a paradigm shift in people’s music listening habits by allowing them to carry their music with them. With time it modified its image with add-ons like stereo playback and mini headphone jacks, permitting two people to listen at the same time as it slowly crept into various parts of the world. Originally marketed as the “Soundabout” in the U.S, the “Stowaway” in the U.K, and the “Freestyle” in Sweden, it was christened “Walkman” when Sony had the name embossed into the metal tape cover of the device.
The credit for this invention goes to Nobutoshi Kihara, an audio-division engineer who built the device for Sony co-chairman Akio Morita who wanted to be able to listen to the opera on his frequent trans-Pacific plane trips. Interestingly Morita hated the name “Walkman” and asked that it be changed, but relented after being told by junior executives that a promotion campaign had already begun using the brand name and that it would be too expensive to change. The brand name has stuck with it ever since as Sony still continues to use the brand name “Walkman” for most of its portable audio devices. And, as recent as March 2007, Sony extended the brand by launching its first all-digital, flash-based video Walkman, the A800 series, where A stands for “All in one, Advanced, and Attractive”.
Technologically the Walkman may have opened up a whole new range of possibilities; however it was its socio-cultural impact that took the world by surprise. For the invention of this small little device had literally added another dimension to the world. Music that had up till now been confined behind closed doors had now found not just new feet, but wings as well! And a little while after this butterfly fluttered its wings, a cultural storm began to be witnessed all over the world.
The year was now 1984, and three years had passed since the cable network had made its debut. In fact, this was a time when cable television had become a household name in the developed parts of the world. And the demand for music created by the walkman had found its way into the idiot box as well. And music coupled with television led to the birth of MTV. This soon became a phenomenon as MTV began reaching 1.2 percent of the daily television audience and more than a quarter of daily teen viewers. Within no time world witnessed the birth of a new generation of individuals with a different self-image, and consequently the children of the eighties began to be called the “MTV Generation”.
The origin of the phrase has been attributed to the MTV Network itself “to describe the teenagers that dominate their ratings”. With time it came to be used to refer to musical preferences, and was later expanded to include the purchasing choices of a generation of consumers. The ‘New York Times’ used it to describe “young adults struggling to establish a cultural niche for themselves, something that will distinguish them from the hippies and baby boomers and yuppies of times past.”
Today, however, the term is sometimes used to refer to the youth of the late 20th century; and it now means different things to different people. It is even sometimes used synonymously with the terms “Generation X” or “Generation Y”. But whatever the connotations of the phrase may have been, it certainly signalled a generational movement of some sort which may have been triggered by a technological advancement but, like the Walkman, had cultural implications as well. And thereby music had once again moved into another realm of human perception.
Next came the IPod, a brilliant gadget in terms of technology, but even more culturally revolutionary. The ease of accessing music through this gadget along with the ease with which people can alter choices at negligible cost has created another level of music preferences. People are no longer bound by technological constraints or by the constraints of information. For when used with the internet, an IPod is an extension to the music found anywhere and everywhere in the world. With an IPod there are no limitations of any sort.
Looking back at how the perception of music and its impact on culture have evolved it is easy to say with certainty that with time we will only be escalate in the level of our perception of music and its influence on us. But what that level of perception will be is as good as anybody’s guess! The only guarantee is that, like its predecessors, it will be the most brilliant amalgamation of technology and culture seen by man ‘so far’. And with its creation will begin the evolution of another level of human awareness and perception. The rest only time shall tell.