An affliction for the digital age

Walkman_1It dawned on me yesterday that the "incident" I experienced the other night on my way home was actually a case of profound techno-embarrassment.

It happened Monday. I was on a commuter train, surrounded by dozens of people and their gadgets: laptops, cell phones, BlackBerrys. I wanted to block them all out by listening to some Radiohead. My device was buried in the bottom of my bag somewhere, amid the notebooks and unpaid bills. But it seemed to take hours for me to reach down and find the "play" button. Yeah, I could have just pulled it out of my bag, but my device is a … Sony Walkman. A Sony Walkman that plays … audiocassettes. And I didn’t want to be seen with it. Best that it stay buried, so people might imagine a sleek, digital, music-playing objet d’art, instead of a beat-up piece of plastic with a (gag) rewind button, bought for $20 at Kmart.

Of course, the big, black, clunky headphones on my head were probably a dead giveaway. These days it’s best to be seen with those elegant little white iPod earbuds. And someone else on the train probably heard my Walkman’s embarrassing catalog of noises: the hollow plastic "clink" when I pushed fast-forward, the whir-whir of the tape spooling and, most awfully, the echoing "plunk" when the tape stopped rewinding.

You may ask why I haven’t gone iPod, and the answer is I don’t know. My hard drive is swimming in MP3s, and I’ve got a far larger music collection than most of my contemporaries. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.Cellphone2

I consoled myself that night in the only way I knew how. I pulled out my brand- new Palm Treo 600 Smartphone with its 144MHz ARM processor and 32MB of RAM and began keyboarding. Maybe that way, anyone who knew I was listening to a Walkman would think I was being ironic.

—Posted by Catharine P. Taylor