Last week we saw the 14th birthday of the famous Apple iPod, and it seems as if America isn’t going back to an mp3-less world anytime soon. It’s clear Apple changed the music world with its revolutionary device.
But don’t you ever just miss the tangible feeling of switching out an album, or the sweet plastic scent of your portable listening device?
I’m talking about the Walkman.
I might seem too young to remember those wonderful devices, but I was always tragically a few years behind the curve while growing up, especially when it came to technology. My friends had televisions in their rooms, those sneakers that converted into rollerblades and they pocketed cell phones in elementary school while I still gave crushes my home landline number. It really cramped my style when my father answered the phone every time and asked “to whom he was speaking”—but who am I kidding, no one ever actually called.
But perhaps what set me behind my peers a few generations wasn’t my wall-cord landline, but the ever-present Walkman I toted around the halls of my elementary and middle schools while all my classmates were bumping to their Zunes.
Always the individual, I not only carried a Walkman—but it was a cassette-only Walkman.
What’s worse, there was only a very limited handful of cassettes in my house. My parents were vinyl—and then CD—fans, so their cassette collection was small and eclectic. From their carefully-curated files of plastic and tape, I selected a battered copy of David Bowie’s Let’s Dance. And then proceeded to listen to only that one album for the entirety of seventh grade.
Every day walking home from school, I would whip out my Walkman with a secret smile on my face. These losers don’t know anything about real music, I’d smirk to myself as I watched my classmates fiddle around with their bulky mp3 players and thin-wire earbuds.
I knew the truth: A real music-listening experience could only be had with a portable cassette player, a Bowie tape covered in chip crumbs from the bottom of my pink L.L. Bean two-compartment backpack and a pair of foam-covered Bose headphones.
I was the epitome of style, effortlessness and utter cool.
I got quite a few weird looks for my choice of music device, but it wasn’t until years later when I entered high school that I realized how absolutely strange I had been for nearly four years of my life. It was 2007, for God’s sake, and I was still carrying around a cassette player.
In high school, I hit my stride and finally invested in my first mp3 player. It was an iPod mini the color of warmed butter, but it held all the classics from Avril to CCR. It worked just fine and, finally, people stopped giving me stares.
So thank you, Apple and the iPod, for allowing me to finally fit in with kids my age. Once I hit high school, no one had to know I was only listening to a mix of showtunes, David Bowie and Rage Against the Machine. All they saw was my shiny-backed iPod and a wide grin on my face.
But while I bless the iPod for taking me out of the 1990s approximately two decades too late, it also makes me a little sad for future generations to know that they won’t truly understand that sharp, acute feeling of embarrassment for being so tragically different from everyone around you that it was almost—almost—funny.
What on earth will they tell their friends when asked about their most awkward moment growing up?
Kids these days won’t know what it’s like to make utter fools of themselves. They’ll always look effortlessly cool with their touch iPods and iPhones filled to the brim with One Direction and Little Mix—no one has to know what they’re listening to, and no one will ever question their sanity as a result.
Everyone should know what it’s like to be the biggest loser in the room. Otherwise, how else would we know how good we have it now?
Goodbye, awkward stages. Hello, iPod.