Do you still like the walkman?


Sony’s latest versions of the Walkman, the pioneering portable music player first launched in 1979, have nothing to do with the original cassette player that came with foam headphones. Instead, the latest Walkman is a digital music player it costs $1,600 or $3,200.

It probably won’t be a big seller. The Nokia and BlackBerry phones that also lived – at least until recently – long after these devices have become relics for those of us who even remember them.

I wanted to know: Who loves technology that’s long past its prime? Well it’s people like Chris Fralic.

Board partner of investment startup First Round recalls buying a 2004 Sony PlayStation Portable video game device on eBay when it was only available in Japan. At one party, he took the device out of his shirt pocket and people streamed in.

“It was like she was beamed from the future,” Fralic told me on the phone this week, holding an old PSP in his hand.

To you, this stuff might be obsolete junk. For enthusiasts like Fralic, tech gadgets hold history – of collectors’ lives, of the tech industry, of the United States, or all of the above.

“They all tell a story,” Fralic said. “I have used, sold and loved this material since its release. It’s cool to look back and realize how important that was.

Fralic has converted a third-floor attic of his home into a personal museum for his collection of thousands of technological devices and memorabilia from the past 40 years or more.

Yes, Fralic has several versions of the old school Walkman and Sony discman CD player. (He emailed me a photo as proof.) His collection also includes a huge DEC PDP-11 mini-computer dubbed R2-D2 that Fralic admitted to being a pain to move around.

It has the parts of an original »blue boxelectronic device that Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak tinkered with — before founding Apple Computer — to hack into phone lines. His collection includes many telephones, including a Monster a la Gordon Gekko and a Soviet-era “yellow telephone” designed to connect to the Kremlin.

By its nature, technology moves quickly and there is often no time or inclination to look back. But many old tech gadgets never really die. Instead, they live in nostalgic products, like Sony’s non-Walkman, and in the garages and attics of aficionados who think the PSP is the coolest thing ever made.

Addison Del Mastro’s love for a 1970s cassette changer from Japan and old clock radios are not a matter of personal nostalgia. Del Mastro, who writes a newsletter of town and country planning, is 28 years old and has barely mastered this stuff himself.

But Del Mastro said that when he was a teenager he brought home from his local recycling center a discarded RadioShack clock radio with faux wood panels and a cassette player. “I plugged the thing in, and it worked.” He was hooked.

Del Mastro said he appreciates the creativity and craftsmanship of decades-old consumer electronics, and the ability to understand how they work.

“You can open up this spinning cassette player from 1970, and any layman can figure out what’s going on,” he told me. “It engages your brain and your hands. This experience is missing from many modern technologies or devices.

Adam Minter said he started hearing about a decade ago from electronics recyclers getting calls from people wanting to buy obsolete personal computers. They offered far more money than the PCs were worth to buy commodities like gold.

Minter, a former colleague of mine who wrote two books about the second life of our stuffsaid that these phone calls often came from collectors that drive out every computer chip ever made by Intel or other manufacturers. “It sounds weird but, really, is it?” Minter said. “You collect these artifacts of our technological age.”

There are of course collectors and enthusiasts for everything. You might like vintage bakelite jewelry or Italian bicycles from the 1970s. Tech gadgets that inspire wonder and lust are no different. Talking to people for this newsletter made me feel like I had wandered into an extremely cheesy subculture, and I may never be able to get out of it again.

“When you open up this crazy world, I’m a little player in it,” Fralic said. “There are people who are crazy about this stuff.”

Tip of the week

If you are in the United States and planning a trip outside the country, Brian X. Chenthe New York Times personal technology columnist, has you covered.

Taking a smartphone abroad can be a bad experience for Americans.

International data plans from US carriers such as Verizon and AT&T often work well – but they are not cheap. That $10 a day to use your phone in many other countries adds up to longer trips, and travel plans sometimes limit the data you use to find online maps, restaurants, and tourist attractions.

Over the years I have tried a number of alternatives when traveling internationally. I’ve had mixed results with eSIMs – essentially a digital method of telling your smartphone to connect to a foreign cellular network as soon as you arrive.

In Thailand, the eSIM I bought did not work. When I tried to contact customer service no one spoke English. On the other hand, when I was in Canada, I used an eSIM which worked great but was quite expensive – $40 for a gigabyte of data. And eSIMs may not work on all smartphones.

In my experience, the most foolproof and affordable way to take a smartphone abroad is to buy a physical SIM card from a major carrier at your travel destination.

When I traveled to Japan about five years ago, I ordered a few DoCoMo SIM Cards loaded with a gigabyte of data for $20 each. SIM cards – tiny pieces of plastic that fit into your phone and contain instructions for internet and phone networks – were delivered to my house before my trip.

When I arrived in Japan, I took out my Verizon SIM card, replaced it with the DoCoMo one, and followed the instructions to activate the service. It worked great, and if something went wrong, I had the option of walking into a DoCoMo store in Japan for help.

(Plan ahead and check with your phone carrier to make sure you’ll be able to use your phone outside the US. And if you’re using an eSIM or SIM card overseas, you might not have no access to your regular phone number or text messages.)

  • Taking off is more fun than running Amazon: Bloomberg’s Brad Stone check out Jeff Bezos, who retired last year as chief executive of Amazon and now spends much of his time focusing on his private space company, personal life and climate philanthropy. Don’t miss the details on Bezos’ tailored suit. (Subscription may be required.)

  • Wired spoke with Rafaela Vasquez, who was driving an Uber self-driving test car in 2018 when it hit and killed pedestrian Elaine Herzberg. Vasquez faces criminal charges, and she’s at the center of a debate over who to blame for the deaths caused by computerized cars. (Subscription may be required.)

  • The GasBuddy app is a privacy nightmare. Here are alternatives for finding cheaper gasoline, from The New York Times’ Wirecutter product review site.

Please enjoy shimmering horse mosaic in a New York subway station.

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