With all the hoopla surrounding Apple’s iPad this week, I thought it might be fun to look back at some of the portable media devices that rocked our world.

The Regency TR-1 (1954): At $50, it was hideously expensive for its time, but those who could afford it need never share that giant console radio in the living room with mom and dad. Teenagers were free to take their own music — this new thing called “rock ’n’ roll” — with them everywhere. As a result, the TR-1 and its descendents allowed rock to launch its social, economic, artistic, political and sexual revolution.

The 8-Track (1964): Jointly developed by Ford, GM, Motorola, AMPEX and the guy behind the Lear Jet company, the 8-track meant that music fans no longer had to wait for their favourite songs to come on the radio.


The Cassette (1964): Invented at the same time, the cassette needed for tape formulations to improve to the point where it sounded as good as — and eventually better than — 8-tracks. And because it was much easier to transfer music from records to cassettes, the mixtape was born. Record labels began freaking out over home taping.

The Sony Walkman TPS-L2 (1979): Look around. See all those people who have isolated themselves from the rest of humanity by plugging into some kind of device that envelopes them in their own private bubble of sound? Before the Walkman, this kind of behavior was considered to be highly antisocial. That’s why the TPS-L2 originally came with two headphone jacks.

The Diamond Multimedia Rio PMP300 (1998): Not the first MP3 player — that distinction goes to the MP3 Man from a Korean company called Sae-Han — but the one that forced the courts in America to rule that such devices were, in fact, legal. Where might we be had those judges ruled the other way?

The iPod (2001): When Steve Jobs returned to Apple, he decreed that a big part of the company’s future was in something he called the “digital hub,” with the perfect portable music device at its core. Some 225 million units later…

The Future (2010-?): Who knows? If there’s one thing we’ve learned since the TR-1, it’s not the device itself that’s important, but what the device allows us to do and the behaviors that result. Continue to expect many unintended and unforeseen consequences.

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