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A Sony Walkman, By God

My poor ancient Archos Jukebox FM Receiver is old and suffering now, and is being retired from the field and given pride of place as desktop storage. Which put me in the market for a new mp3 player.

Amazingly, I find myself once again in possession of a Sony Walkman.


Of all the things to once again possess. I’ve just written something for The Wire music magazine about personal soundtracks, and the Sony Walkman is what started it. I don’t think, holding my original tape-playing Walkman in my hands, it even occurred to me that such a thing could or should hold a library of music and a day’s worth of TV shows. When I showed this tiny, heavy thing to Lili, I’m wondering now if she was thinking, "yeah, it plays music, but what else does it do?" She didn’t ask, but, knowing her, I wonder if that was going through her head. Whether that’s what goes through the heads of her Western generation, the third (?) internet generation. Where’s the controller? What else does it do?

Having only had the thing a few hours, I fat-fingered the slightly awkward mp3 slider bar while playing her a piece of music on it, watching her fingers twitching. A one-second slip, and she was in there, "give me that, old man," tapping the touchscreen (that she’s never used before). She’s the generation that listens to music on YouTube — and I was about to comment that she’s of the generation entirely used to overcompressed music, until I realised that I grew up listening to toppy medium-wave radio, where people specifically recorded for its quirks. Bass almost completely disappears in pop music until 1988, when it becomes a club and rave experience again. The Associates rigged an entire drum kit with nothing but snares so the sound popped on radio. The only real difference between YouTube and BBC Radio 1 is that she gets to search and choose exactly what she wants to listen to, circling outwards to associated links to find similar and new things. Control.

Clay Shirky’s line about how anything that ships without a mouse is broken — that’s her generation. (I still think he was just one foot behind the time — I understand he was working from an anecdote, but I can’t help thinking the word he should have used is "touchscreen.")

I found Lili crosslegged on her bed earlier, her guitar in her hands, earbuds in, watching something on her open laptop. I suspect it was either a guitar lesson, some tabs she’s been looking for, or listening to Theory Of A Dead Man and trying to detune her guitar to C-sharp to capture their tone. That’s how she treats the laptop — what else does it do? And the very conjuring of all those elements in the first line illustrates that her generation do not live with their heads in a laptop or a DS Lite or whatever. Less so, even, than the previous generation. It’s a fully integrated part of their lives, a Swiss army knife for the world. What else does it do?

If I tell her I have a YouTube app on the Sony Walkman I’ll never get the bloody thing back.

(I’m sure I was going to write about something else, but then I got off on a ramble. Oh well. File it under Brainjuice and move on.)

(Did I mention Lili won a Young Engineers award last week? She came home today with some weird mathematics award I don’t quite understand. I’m slightly afraid she’s going to operate on me in the night and I’ll wake up as a cyborg slave.)

Published in brainjuice


  1. Butoh Butoh

    Face it, Warren, you’ve bred doktor sleepless. Next thing you know, her room is all filled with junk not even you know what it’s for.
    On a more serious note, I really don’t know how the generation that came next (I’m 23, and I assume your daughter is younger) is reacting. But if I had to think about it, I guess it would only be natural for them to turn computers and tech into swiss knives, like you say. From going around the web, I get the feeling interactivity is growing, and the more tasks you can do with one thing the better. And I assume kids are growing into it pretty well. After all, it’s something they’ve generally been contacting with all their lives. Maybe technology becomes just a sort of extension, a way to pursue their own interests instead of an end in itself. Then again, you might just call me an ass after reading what I wrote.
    Lastly, I’m really not into sucking up, and you probably weren’t even making an effort, but the two first paragraphs were great.

  2. Sam Beaven Sam Beaven

    Girl genius with a monstrous cyborg dad sidekick sounds like an interesting format, actually.

  3. This would make a great column. And you just gave it away for free. Thanks!

    I feel like a total dinosaur, and not the clever warm blooded velociraptor kind: Nothing I own has a touchscreen.

  4. I think, having an iPhone, that I’m finally really starting to viscerally understand Big Bruce Sterling’s whole “spime” concept. I find myself being frustrated that everything DOESN’T have a touchscreen — my TV, my laptop, my goddamn guitar ought to have a little resistive LCD for adjusting timbre and tone.

    It will, though.

    (Congrats to Lili! Does she still have that ridiculous top hat I sent along to her?)

  5. I saw the same thing with YouTube, teen-age girls in the outskirts Manila learn Hip Hop steps and guitar tabs from YouTube, and their brothers watching Japanese anime. It’s a schoolbook, teacher, TV to the world.

  6. If Lili’s cyborg slave dad project includes a built-in Red Bull and nicotine IV drip, you should go for it.

  7. Phill Warren Phill Warren

    Another reason why 80’s pop was so heavy at the top end was explained by Pete Waterman in Simon Napier-Bell’s book ‘Black Vinyl, White Powder’ :-
    [Noticing that most gay clubs had lights that were activated by the records being played] “It was all done with handclaps and cowbells. We put in sharp sounds that cut through – bits of percussion, with a lot of top – and played them frequently and fast, triplets and things like that. If you got it right you could make the lights go crazy. We cut the bass frequencies down and put what the bass guitar was playing into a higher frequency range. That gave our records more volume too. When one of our records came on, it was louder than the previous one, and the lights would go off like fireworks.”

  8. I thought you already were a cyborg slave…

  9. Christian Otholm Christian Otholm

    Considering your massive creative output, I wouldn’t be surprised if it had already happened.

  10. My toddler watches CBeebies on a laptop. Telly happens on laptops. I have no idea what she’d make of the big box in the corner.

    The teenagers use YouTube as their personal jukebox.

  11. Dammit. Leave it up to Warren Ellis himself to show the utility of having a child around: keeping someone old like me hep (er, they still use that word, right?).

    Seriously, bloody brilliant piece. Now off to recommend it via Twitter. To all the other old people.

  12. Val A Lindsay II Val A Lindsay II

    It’s also interesting to see what kids create and share with these tools and resources. A 13 year old reviews a 30 year old Walkman? It’s far easier for this generation. It’s all they’ve ever known…

  13. Carl D Carl D

    Regarding technology and generational gaps:

    I just ticked off thirty years on this little dustball orbiting the sun, I had a horrifying moment when I realized that many of my students now have never even owned a cd player, much less a walkman. Then I think none of them have ever made mix tapes. Not playlists, which anyone can put together by randomly dragging and dropping files from a playlist. I mean real mix-tapes, that took care and effort to make, where you sat on the living room floor in front of your parents’ stereo carefully monitoring the tracks and daydreaming about rolling in the grass with a pretty girl while listening to Astral Weeks by Van Morrison.

    And then there were the liner notes. Hopefully someday centuries from now future anthropologists will discover the handwritten liner notes from my generation, and realize that we put the same kind of care and hope into these things that those lonely bastard monks put into the Book of Kells, even though our handwriting sucked much more.

    At least hopefully some of us got laid because of it.

  14. Cool. My 3 year old ran up a $1000 + tab using my iPhone in KIX this winter. She turned on Data Roaming so she could watch her favorite cartoon series. She didn’t care YouTube only offered it in Portuguese. And yes – AT&T dropped the charge after I explained what happened. Bottom line – rent a local phone next time.

    As to old tech – anyone have the pleasure of converting Reel to Reel to VHS tape or DAT? I feel it was all futile now – but I’ll have to get Dad’s music on something digital soon.

  15. […] Warren Ellis » A Sony Walkman, By God "The only real difference between YouTube and BBC Radio 1 is that she gets to search and choose exactly what she wants to listen to, circling outwards to associated links to find similar and new things. Control." (tags: warrenellis walkman musik youtube teknik) […]

  16. Feels like a scene from the Diamond Age.

  17. Melissa Melissa

    Children are terrifying. Their brainjuice is so much more powerful than ours. Diluted with a splash of soda and lime, it would make a hell of a cocktail.

  18. Kudos for Lili’s award, sir! ^^ Here’ to hoping for the day she makes killer robots that feed on corpses and make you some Red Bull!!

    Seriously though…let’s hope she doesn’t read here that your Walkman has Youtube Access, lol. xD

  19. Leo Leo

    Lately I’ve been longing for one of those 9v FM transistor radios that were new in my dad’s age, the 1950’s. Single speaker, mono sound, mono earbud jack – what were earbud’s called a mer ten years ago? Longing for a micro-retro-boombox.

  20. JW JW

    I bought a 15gb Archos mp3 player lo so many years ago. It was way pre-iPod and I remember the IT guy at work asking me how many megs my new toy had.

    “Fifteen thousand.” I said, nay, bragged. (I didn’t quite understand the 1024 rule yet).

    Frankly, I still don’t understand why people need huge mp3 storage. I’m just waiting to upgrade to a 3G, um, you-know-what, so I can listen to audiostreams wherever I go.

  21. James P. Wack James P. Wack

    woah, nice column.

    I don’t think she’ll turn you into a cyborg, we [the “not so young” generation] are a primitive form of cyborgs: our computers [or smartphones or audio players] as “extended memory” and the internet as an hyperconscience and as a hive mind, the only thing missing is a cheap and stable brain-machine interface.

    Anyway, as Stefan Jones noted: if it includes a RedBull and Nicotine I.V., I’m on it too.

    PS: which engineering?

  22. So among the many things I must envy you for, is having a genius kid rather than the broken one I keep in my house. Oh well, at least I don’t have to worry about waking up one morning with a bunch of metal and plastic parts. Although the way things are going I might end up arranging this deliberately.

  23. […] Warren Ellis » A Sony Walkman, By God Sony Walkmen, Child Brains & Compression of Music. An interesting quick observation. (tags: warren ellis, music, sony, computers, the future) [permalink]  […]

  24. Louie Huwie Louie Huwie

    One of the best things you’ve ever written

    Life in the old dog yet!

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