Thursday, 28 October 2010

Goodbye (Magnetic) Yellow Brick Road

Earlier this week, the Sony Corporation announced it would cease production of its famous "Walkman" devices. For those unawares that music was actually once something one either paid for or waited patiently to hear on the radio rather than "on demand," this machine was a revolutionary little device that allowed one to listen to FM radio or cassette tapes whilst exercising, working in the yard, or engaged in some other mobile pursuit.

Oh; I reckon I ought to add that a "cassette" was a type of media that was popular somewhere back in the late Cretaceous Period that allowed one to record music for later playback.  And it involved moving parts.

My first "Walkman" was about half the size of a tissue box - it seemed incredibly compact at the time, and I used it walking back and forth to school or when cutting the lawn.  In those days, that latter task was not yet one "Americans wouldn't do."

There is little doubt in my mind that the pace of technological advancement is getting faster (see Moore's Law as an example;  devices are becoming obsolete quicker than you can say "Akihabara." ), and that generally, this is a good thing. I don't lament the passing of the Walkman.

My thoughts today are about how, with the change in technology comes another sort of evolution that is going unrecorded, and that is around the obsolescence of language itself.  In 10 years, will people know what a "cassette" was?  Or, more obliquely, will euphemisms like "rewind" remain, even though the meaning is lost?

It's a bit of a rhetorical question, but not one that's unprecedented.  Examples are manifold.  Think of the colloquialisms that are common in our language"

  • "Dial" a number
  • "Turn" the channel
  • In the same "Area Code"
  • Performing "in the clutch."
My brother in law is only 10 years younger than I am, but when I was discussing music with him some years back and mentioned listening to "45s," he was truly puzzled.  I might as well have said I heard it on the wireless or purchased scrolls for the Victrola.

No one owns a rotary phone, so "dialling" is essentially meaningless.  We use digital tuners on our televisions.  Area codes, once actually tied to physical locations are no longer applicable (my mobile is in the 408 "Area Code," which is 2500 miles away.)

So, to the Walkman, I simply quote an oldie by the Stone Ponies (a band from the late 1960s):

"Goodbye... I'll be leaving.  I see no sense, in crying and grieving."  
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