In 1992, a mixtape that I could play on my Walkman until the ribbon wore out is all I ever wanted from an elementary school crush. A lineup of hand-picked songs carefully selected and recorded from Casey Kasem's Top 40 on NYC's hit radio station Z-100 spoke volumes more to me at the time than hand-holding, cuddling, or even kissing (none of which I had experienced yet).
My crushes never did come through (Ray and Ruben, you blew it!), but that didn't stop me from making my own mixtapes and listening to them on cheese-bus rides home, staring out the window, lip-syncing the words to “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You” and thinking of no one in particular...except for maybe Kevin Costner.
Twenty-two years later, I haven't outgrown putting on my headphones and mouthing ballads to myself now on a long run in the park. The device I use to transfer these sweet tunes to my ears, however, has changed drastically. Devices started with the Walkman, which was introduced in 1979 for $150, or its CD-related sibling, the Discman. Then in 1998, the MP3 music player—followed by the iPod in 2001 and iPod Shuffle in 2005—introduced us to downloading multiple albums, giving us immediate access to hours and hours of your all-time favorite hits wherever, whenever. From there, the Nano shrunk our portable player even further before the iPhone changed our lives forever in 2007.
It's not a stretch to say that the iPhone might not exist if it weren't for that first player. Although Walkman production ended in 2010 (sad!), the player is still praised as an iconic brand that was among the first of its kind to allow people to take their music with them, notes Yahoo tech columnist Alyssa Bereznak.
“Listening to music with headphones rather than a public area, like a room where you're listening to a record, was a big deal. It shifted the way people experienced music,” says Bereznak. “Still today, the Walkman is ranked among the greatest gadgets of the past 50 years because it represented all the possibilities of what we could make mobile. Also, it was a pretty stylish thing!”
I may never get my mixtape, but I'm still holding out for my mixed playlist from a special someone. And when I get it, I'll definitely channel my younger self, sitting on the bus with my Walkman, daydreaming about love while I listen.