I’ve always been fascinated by the fact that the first Walkman® introduced by Sony in 1979 had 2 headphone jacks. Listening with this new portable audio playback device was intended, from the beginning, to be a shared experience with a friend.
Sharing what you are listening to is prevalent now in a variety of ways. However as a result of it being reduced to an archived timeline that unfolds in real time in a sort of “I heard it before you did and I can prove it based on my playlist archive,” the listening experience isn’t the same. It’s asynchronous and in many cases more about the breadcrumbs than the hike. The shared listening experience from those early days of the excitement of portable audio are different. The synchronous sharing of individual listening experience creates a different space entirely. It’s a different relationship to that which is being listened to but it is also a different relationship to the simultaneous listener. Looking back now that the majority of portable listening experiences are incredibly personal, it seems nostalgic to think about the 2 headphones,1 device approach to sharing music. Not just because the headphones have wires but because these devices have served a greater and greater role in separating us from the people around us, not bringing us closer. If it does bring us closer, it most likely isn’t to those who are around us in terms of physical proximity but instead those who share the greatest level of connection and interest similarity as determined by a connected networked of information and similarity-determining algorithms.
When I was in junior high I got my first Discman® and it was awesome. Although the previous year most of us had gotten home stereo CD players either ourselves or in our family rooms, I was one of the first of my friends to have a portable CD player. I immediately purchased a headphone jack splitter from the local stereo and electronics store (which was actually just a separate area of the super-super-market in town) and I always had it with me. I wanted to share what I was listening to. I brought it on every free day in class, it was with me on every single field trip and sometimes when the weather was nice enough (this was Michigan after all) I had it with me on the playground. I always wanted to be listening to it and I always wanted someone else to be listening to it as well. Some of the best memories that I have are when my friend would bring the latest CDs that his big brother gave to him when he was home visiting from college, where he worked on-air for the campus radio station. As an 8th grader in a small farm town in northern Michigan, having a drug-traffiker-esque connection to music that was hot on a college radio station was pretty rad and being able to share it via the headphone splitter and sometimes going so far as to 4-way conference call that with 3 splitters was even better. We could drum together on the bus seats, we could raise our fists at the same time or if we were sharing something new, we could warn each other when the radest parts were about to hit.