Do you still love Walkman?
The latest version of Sony’s Walkman, the pioneering portable music player, first released in 1979, is nothing like the original cassette player that came with foam headphones. Instead the latest Walkman is a digital music player that costs $1,600 or $3,200.
It probably won’t be a big seller. Neither Nokia nor Blackberry phones were – at least until recently – long after becoming relics of those devices 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 Fralik.
The board partners with start-up investment firm First Round to recall buying the 2004 Sony PlayStation Portable video game device on eBay when it was only available in Japan. At a party, he pulled out the device from his shirt pocket and a crowd of people gathered.
“It was like it was future insured,” Fralik told me over the phone this week, as he held an old PSP in his hand.
To you, this kind of stuff may be obsolete junk. For enthusiasts like Fralick, technology gadgets hold history—of the lives of collectors, the tech industry, the United States, or all of the above.
“They all tell a story,” Fralick said. “I’ve used and sold and loved this stuff ever since it first came out. It’s nice to look back and realize how important it was.”
Fralick converted a third-floor attic in his home into a private museum for his collection of thousands of technology tools and memorabilia from the past 40 years or more.
Yes, Frolic owns several versions of the old-school Walkman and Sony’s Discman CD players. (He emailed me a photo as proof.) His archive also includes a Hawking DEC PDP-11 minicomputer named the R2-D2 which Fralik admitted caused pain to move.
He owns an original “blue box” electronic device that Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak cobbled together – before they founded Apple Computer – to hack telephone lines. He has plenty of phones in his collection, including a Gordon Gecko-style monster and a Soviet-era “yellow phone” designed to be linked to the Kremlin.
Technology by its very nature is advancing rapidly, and there is often no time or inclination to look back. But many old tech gadgets never really die. Instead, they live on in the products of the old days, like Sony’s not-so-Walkman, and in the garages and attics of aficionados who believed the PSP was the best thing ever.
Edison Del Mastro’s love for 1970s cassette tape changers and vintage clock radios from Japan isn’t about personal nostalgia. Del Maestro, who writes a newspaper about urbanization and land use, is 28 years old and has barely used that stuff.
But Del Mastro said that when he was a teenager, he came across a waste RadioShack clock radio with fake wood paneling and a cassette player from his local recycling center. “I plugged the thing in, and it worked.” He was engaged.
Del Maestro said he appreciates the creativity and craftsmanship that goes back to decades-old consumer electronics, along with the ability to understand how they worked.
“You can open that spinning cassette player from 1970, and any layman can understand what’s going on,” he told me. “It engages your brain and your hands. That experience is absent in a lot of modern technology or devices.”
Adam Minter said he started hearing about a decade ago from electronics recyclers who were getting calls from people eager to buy obsolete personal computers. They were offering far more money than PC for raw materials like gold.
Minter, a former colleague of mine who has written two books about the second life of our stuff, said those phone calls were often from collectors looking for every computer chip made by Intel or other manufacturers. “It sounds weird, but really, isn’t it?” Minter said. “You’re collecting these artifacts of our technological age.”
Of course, for everything there are collectors and enthusiasts. You might like vintage Bakelite jewelry or Italian bicycles from the 1970s. Technology gadgets that inspire wonder and lust are no different. While talking to the people for this newsletter, it felt like I’ve strayed into an extremely dull subculture, and I’ll never be able to get out again.
“When you open up to this crazy world, I’m just a small player in it,” Fralik said. “There are people who are crazy about this stuff.”
tip of the week
taking your smartphone abroad
If you are in the US and planning to travel outside the country, Brian X ChenoNew York Times personal technology columnist, have you covered.
Taking a smartphone abroad can be a lousy experience for Americans.
International data plans from US phone carriers like Verizon and AT&T often work well — but they aren’t cheap. Using your phone in many other countries adds up to $10 a day on longer trips, and travel plans sometimes limit the data you can use to look up online maps, restaurants, and tourist attractions.
Over the years, I’ve tried many options on international trips. I’ve had mixed results with eSIM – essentially a digital way of instructing your smartphone to latch onto a foreign cellular network as soon as you arrive.
In Thailand, the eSIM I bought was not working. When I tried to contact customer support, no one spoke English. On the other hand, when I was in Canada, I used an eSIM which worked great, but was expensive at $40 for a gigabyte of data. And eSIM may not work on every smartphone.
In my experience, the easiest and cheapest way to get 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 some DoCoMo SIM cards loaded with a gigabyte of data for $20 each. The SIM card—the little plastic piece that pops into your phone and contains instructions for the Internet and phone service networks—was delivered to my home before my trip.
When I arrived in Japan, I popped out my Verizon SIM card, replaced it with DoCoMo’s, and followed the instructions to activate the service. It worked great, and if something went wrong, I had the option of going to a DoCoMo store in Japan to ask for help.
(Plan ahead and check with your phone provider to make sure you’ll be able to use your phone outside the US and if you use an e-SIM or SIM card abroad, maybe that you may not have access to your regular telephone number or SMS text.)
Before we leave …
Blast off is more fun than running Amazon: Bloomberg’s Brad Stone examines Jeff Bezos, who retired as Amazon’s chief executive last year and is now focusing most of his time on his private space company, his personal life, and his climate philanthropy. Don’t forget to elaborate on Bezos’s tailored jumpsuit. (A subscription may be required.)
Wired spoke with Rafael Vasquez, who was behind the wheel of an Uber self-driving test car in 2018 when it struck and killed a pedestrian, Ellen Herzberg. Vasquez is facing criminal charges, and he is at the center of a debate over who is to blame for the deaths caused by computerized cars. (A subscription may be required.)
The GasBuddy app is a privacy nightmare. Here are options for finding cheap gas from The New York Times’ Wirecutter product review site.
Please enjoy it Sparkly Horse Mosaic In the New York subway station.
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