Back to the Future: Apple’s iPod vs. the Sony Walkman

Sony Walkman

Unless you were born on the younger side of the 1990's, you probably remember the Sony Walkman, at the time an ingenious device that allowed you to listen to music and radio while on the run, revolutionizing the way people exercised and interacted with the outdoors.

All of us know about the iPod by now, which begs the inevitable question:  which gadget is really better?

The Christian Science Monitor asked the question last month, noting the 30-year anniversary of the Walkman's release (this past July 1st).  Sure, they're a part of our history, given the quick-moving advances of the digital world, but are Sony Walkmans an ancient relic of the past, or a still-relevant digital throwback?


Some who tried wearing one recently were met with some degree of ridicule.  After all, one would expect Marty McFly to travel to our current generation from the middle of the 1980's with his Walkman in tow - not present-day people.  It's hard not to be noticed wearing a Sony Walkman - it's more brick-like construction is best suited for a belt clip and can't sneak into your pocket or backpack quite so easily as an iPod.

One advantage of the Walkman over the iPod was found:  two headphone jacks meant that two sets of headphones can be used on the Walkman, allowing two people to enjoy the same music without sharing the same pair of ear pieces.

In order to properly weigh each device against each other, some degree of cultural relativism will have to be employed.  Sony's Walkman was impressive for its era, just as today's iPod has revolutionized the way we think about and listen to music.  If the iPod dominates the Walkman in terms of amount and variety of audio potential, the Walkman still deserves credit for calling attention to the need of portable music in the first place.

As much as the current generation might enjoy looking down on the portable options of the past, we have to realize that the ever-accelerating world of digital technology will probably make the iPod look ancient in a matter of years.  After all, the original iPod wasn't equipped with the type of technology now packed into iPhones and Palm Pre's.  So take it easy on the Walkman:  it was your dad's iPod.