As Apple celebrates its billionth app download, its predecessors also celebrate anniversaries of when they shaped our world in ways we might not have expected.
Some Big Birthdays
- On June 1, 1999, Napster was first released. I have fond college memories of Napster, but even better memories from ten years before.
- On April 21st, 1989, the first Nintendo Gameboy went on sale. I immediately asked for one for Christmas that year and in late December, I faked that I was sick, snuck into my mom’s closet, unwrapped my Gameboy, played it all day, and then carefully re-wrapped it so she would never know. I did this for at least 3 days before she sent me back to school!
- On July 1, 1979, the first Sony Walkman went on sale in Japan. Since I was just a few months old, I don’t have a fun story about it, but I have used its successors like the portable CD player, iPod, and now iPhone. To me, portable music devices, video game players, phones, and so forth are a completely normal part of life – but it was not always so!
Before the Walkman, there was no device specifically designed to make music an isolated, individual experience.
Certainly, a person could listen to the radio alone, but speakers were designed for everyone present to hear them. But the Walkman fundamentally shifted music out of the arena of community experience and into the realm of personal taste. Music was once a connection between the artist and the listeners. The phonograph put a device between the artist and audience, the Walkman put a device between the audience members, and Napster severed all connections completely. Never before could a room full of individuals each experience something so emotionally and viscerally powerful as music, but each be engrossed in radically different universe isolated from its creator.
The Walkman and Gameboy were but gateway drugs into our current hyperconnected, but isolated world. Today, we are surrounded by devices that take significant realities formerly known to only community – music, games, eating, and so on – and compress them into virtual spheres of expereince insulated even from those within arms reach. Now, we even watch TV on tiny screens by ourselves!
So the next time you encounter an evolutionary offspring of the Walkman or Gameboy, you might consider how it shapes and frames the way your experience the important things of this life.