Lentis/The Walkman Effect

First Walkman Introduced in 1979


The Walkman Effect is the phenomenon that occurs when an individual creates a seemingly personal environment through portable devices, usually accompanied by head/earphones. This effect can be seen everywhere. For example, a student walking to a class with headphones, a janitor vacuuming the floor while listening to music, or an employee working at a cubicle with music blasting in his ears. This term was coined by Shuhei Hosokawa in 1984.[1]

Introduction of the Personal Portable Music PlayerEdit

Masaru Ibuka, cofounder of Sony, traveled often for business and found himself lugging Sony's bulky TC-D5 cassette recorder around to listen to music. In 1979, he asked Norio Ohga, Executive Deputy President, to design a playback-only stereo version with headphones. Eventually, in 1982, Masaru Ibuka introduced the Sony Walkman, a new compact, high-quality music player. Sony's first marketing step was to get the word out to people who had influence on the public, like celebrities and people in the music industry. Sony sent free Walkmans to Japanese recording artists, TV stars and movie stars. They also began an innovative marketing campaign, targeting younger people and active folks. With the Walkman, users could control where, when and what music they wanted to play. The original Walkman included an orange button that when pressed, decreased the music volume so that people could talk to each other. In addition, two headphone jacks were built in so that users could share their music. However, it turned out that people did not share their music players, which marked the beginning of the personalized music era that is still seen today with portable music players such as the iPod.

The Walkman EffectEdit

In 1984, Shuhei Hosokawa published an article in Popular Music called "The Walkman Effect". Hosokawa defined the Walkman Effect as a disconnection between the Walkman user and his/her environment. He examined the Walkman as more of a cultural object with its relationships with the user rather than as a technological artifact.[1] The Walkman extends the act of listening to music, which before was a commonly private task, to other more public locations such as the park, work, and gym. Hosokawa described listening to music on the Walkman "as a place out of space and time, a placeless place, where the user is taken to be disconnected from the world around them."[2] The Walkman creates a virtual space in which "spatial difference" is erased and the experience is the same anywhere.[1] There is a distance between the experience of listening to music on the Walkman and other actions done while listening. The Walkman causes the user to be at the intersection of two different spaces, such as in between media and physical space and between a private world and the social environment.

The Walkman user is isolated in this virtual space listening to music alone, disconnected from the world. The user has complete control in this space outside the physical world. The user is able to construct, deconstruct, and/or change this virtual space. The public sees the Walkman user as unusual and preoccupied. While the listener is humming and walking to the beat of the music, no one else in the outside world can hear what he is listening to. The Walkman user is having a private act publicly performed, often described as inappropriate. The user is autonomous but also disconnected from the environment.

Public vs. PrivateEdit

Before the Walkman came into market, there was a debate on consumer electronic devices and their influence on taking people out of public life and into private life. For example, televisions and radios removed their users from the “public sphere” and placed them into the “domestic sphere”.[3] The release of the Walkman added a new dimension to this debate; consumers could now place their domestic sphere in the public sphere.

However, the Walkman Effect's significance varies among cultures. Some of the initial success of the Walkman in Japan itself is attributed to the high population density. This can be explained by analyzing the fall of the boombox, also known as "ghettoblasters." Like the Walkman, boomboxes also brought a new dimension of portability to music. People were able to play their music anywhere and as loud as they would like. Often associated with the hip hop and breakdancing community, the boombox was a way for these social groups to express themselves through what they play. With these devices, users could control where their music was played (e.g., in a park or in a neighborhood) and they could share their music with everyone within the music player’s sound range, but they could not control what or when music was played. In modern Japan, there is no place for the boombox. Partially due to Japan's high population density, the Japanese people have embraced a culture in which unnecessary noise in public is considered disrespectful. For example, most Japanese forms of mass transportation do not allow the use of cellphones (see sign on the left). Therefore, the Walkman fit this culture better than the boombox. In Japan, the use of the Walkman was an act of being mindful to the surrounding people as well as being isolated from the environment.

Real vs. VirtualEdit

Since the invention of the Walkman, users have given it significance, meaning and value in cultural life.[3] The Walkman can be used in many scenarios. For instance, listening while traveling in an airplane or on a bus; listening while waiting for the airplane to land or the bus to stop; or listening while going for a walk or jogging. The Walkman Effect gives the user the ability to be in two places at once or do two things at once. Imagine a user walking towards class, seeing the Rotunda and feeling the Wintery bitter cold. But he also feels like he is in a Black Eyed Peas concert because he is listening to it on his iPod. The Walkman acts a connection between the physical world and a virtual music space. The Walkman provides a "microcosm", a way to shut out one dimension of the outside world and give a sense of privacy and space.[1] Hosokawa remarks that “people lose their healthy relationship with their environment, become isolated, and turned into a lonely crowd suffering from incommunicability.”[1].

Similar dissociations from the real world and virtual world can be found in MMORPGs and Second Life.

Other TechnologiesEdit

The Walkman Effect can be applied to other technologies. Examples include computers, laptops, mobile gaming devices, and cellphones. All of these technologies allow a user to escape into a private space while in a public environment. This effect can be seen everywhere, such as in a coffee shop. The coffee shop is a public space but customers are performing normally private tasks, such as reading a book or newspaper, listening to music, and surfing the internet. The Walkman Effect can be expanded into other virtual spaces other than the personal music world. The Walkman Effect is not directly tied to the Walkman itself but the trait of self-isolation within the boundaries of the unwritten rules of society. People in the coffee shop can perform their own personal actions only while not disturbing those around them. The people in the coffee shop are not only physically connected by the location but also share the Walkman Effect experience. Hosokawa states, "The Walkman [experience] is simultaneously a boundary and and interface, modulating encounters of a wholly new kind."[1] This quote reveals that even though the Walkman Effect isolates people from one another, they are connected by the experience of the Walkman Effect.

Social GroupsEdit

Early CriticismEdit

The idea of the Walkman met with many skeptics in its early life. The original inventor of a portable music device, Andreas Pavel, was shunned from multiple American electronic stores when he approached them with his product. Pavel stated that many of the stores “said they didn’t think people would be so crazy as to run around with headphones.”[4] While he was in Milan in 1976, Pavel stated that “people would look at me sometimes on a bus, and you could see they were asking themselves, why is this crazy man running around with headphones?"[4]

A French journalist interviewed young adults and asked questions such as:

Are we loosing contact with reality? Are men who use the Walkman human or not? Are they psychotic or schizophrenic? Are you worried about the fate of humanity?[1]

Mark Noll, in an article in Christianity Today, remarked that the Walkman was "One more competitor to the voice of God." [5]

A staunch opponent of the Walkman Effect is Norman Lebrecht. In 2004, he described how the Walkman ended music as an art. He described that music is now “a utility, undeserving of more attention than drinking water from a tap.”[6]


Many countries had their own reactions to the Walkman. In London, a user could be fined for having loud music.[7] In 1994, Vincent Jackson conducted an experiment to see how others responded to him while he was wearing headphones. In the subway, unbeknownst to the viewers, Jackson did not have any music playing in his Walkman; when he made the motion of turning up his music, he received many glares from the people around him. He concluded that the symbolism of wearing headphones was enough to get people to dislike him.[3]

China's reaction to the Walkman was not receptive. Rey Chow states how the Walkman may be a form of sabotage.[8] The Walkman gave some of the control to the user; China could no longer control what its citizens were listening to. Chow remarks how the Walkman allowed the youth to become “deaf to the loudspeakers of history… The autism of the Walkman listener irritates onlookers precisely because the onlookers find themselves reduced to the activity of looking alone."[8]

As one blogger puts it: The Walkman Effect boils down to power, "it represents a threat to those in charge."[7]

Synergy with AerobicsEdit

Sport's Walkman

The Walkman’s launch coincided with the birth of the aerobics craze, and millions used the Walkman to make their workouts more entertaining. The number of people who said they walked for exercise increased by 30% between 1987 and 1997.[9] It has been shown that up tempo music helps exercisers perform better, at least up to a certain exercise level.[10]

Musical Influence in the WorkplaceEdit

Music’s effect on productivity is varied; it all depends on the person. Many scientific experiments have been conducted to see whether music has any effects on the body and productivity. Although scientific facts are inconclusive, the main consensus is that music does increase performance by altering moods.[11][12] Many workers complain of load noise created by their co-workers in a working environment; these people turn to headphones and music to help drown out the noise around them.[13]


  1. ^ Hosokawa,S. (1984). The Walkman Effect. Popular Music, 4, 165-180. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/853362
  2. ^ Hemment,D. (2005). The mobile effect. Convergence: The Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, 1(2).
  3. ^ du Gay, P., Hall, S., Janes, L., Mackay, H., & Negus, K. (1997). Doing cultural studies: the story of the Sony Walkman. London: SAGE Publications. Retrieved from http://books.google.com/books?id=Gop0dQGKm5sC&lpg=PA118&ots=C_g3Efa4Gc&dq=%22vincent%20jackson%22%20walkman%20underground%20menace&pg=PP6#v=onepage&q=%22vincent%20jackson%22%20walkman%20underground%20menace&f=false
  4. ^ Rohter, L. (2005). An unlikely trendsetter made earphones a way of life. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/17/international/americas/17pavel.html?_r=1
  5. ^ Mitchell, J. P. (1999). Visually speaking: radio and the renaissance of preaching. Louisville: T&T Clark. Retrieved from http://books.google.com/books?id=XLwb6FzLG4QC&lpg=PA73&ots=dHoEblreVA&dq=Christianity%20Today%2C%20Mark%20Noll%20%22voice%20of%20god%22%20walkman&pg=PR4#v=onepage&q=Christianity%20Today,%20Mark%20Noll%20%22voice%20of%20god%22%20walkman&f=false
  6. ^ Lebrect, Norman. (2004, July 26). Sony Walkman - Music to whose ears?. Retrieved from http://www.scena.org/columns/lebrecht/040726-NL-walkman.html
  7. ^ Quirk, T. (2010, April 22). The quiet revolution. Retrieved from http://blog.rhapsody.com/2010/04/the-quiet-revolution.html
  8. ^ Chow, R. (1993). Writing diaspora: tactics of intervention in contemporary cultural studies. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Retrieved from http://books.google.com/books?id=GapTNVOUz1wC&lpg=PA163&ots=InmnAQQ7j2&dq=%22rey%20chow%22%20walkman&pg=PR4#v=onepage&q&f=false
  9. ^ Pocket Calculator. (2002). Walkman history 101. Retrieved from http://www.pocketcalculatorshow.com/walkman/history.html
  10. ^ Karageorghis, C., & Priest, D. L. (2008). Music in sport and exercise: an update on research and application. The Sport Journal, 11(3). ISSN: 1543-9518
  11. ^ Purdy, K. (2009, September 22). The Best Sounds for Getting Work Done. Retrieved from http://lifehacker.com/5365012/the-best-sounds-for-getting-work-done
  12. ^ Kutchka. (2008). Does listening to music improve productivity? Retrieved from http://www.kutchka.com/products/musicincreasesproductivity.htm
  13. ^ Iann22. (2009). Use of headphones at work. Manager Tools Forum. Retrieved from http://www.manager-tools.com/forums-4088