Tlellagraph: Nostalgia for the 20th century

In the mid to late 20th century, people used to “tape” music. (David Mitchell/Flickr)

By Janet Rigg

I just did something so instinctual, so second nature, I barely knew where it came from. I took a Q tip. I dipped it in rubbing alcohol. I then gently massaged the heads, the rollers, the pins, the cogs. I rubbed them back and forth in such a way as to not saturate. Just to clean. Just to allow them to function as they were intended.

Then I blew into the nether-reaches, the places a Q tip cannot reach. A quick, confident blow. I gave the small, portable, electronic device a quick shake. To release other impediments to performance, perhaps. Perhaps just to show it I meant business.

As some of you may have guessed by now, what I’m describing is the cleaning of a Sony Walkman, circa 1987. A Sportsman, more accurately. It has a stop-watch function — you could time your laps as you jogged around with a gigantic yellow tape player strapped to your warm-up suit. It was a tougher work-out, back in the day.

I dug out the Walkman because my daughter announced it was “Bring Your Electronics to Class Day” tomorrow. I didn’t want to send her with my iPad, and she doesn’t have an iPod. Her e-reader is an everyday thing, and the Leap Pad is getting a little too young to be cool. So what to send her with?

As “Bring Your Electronics to Class Day” fell on a Thursday, I thought I’d be trendy enough to embrace #tbt (throwback Thursday) and send her with a Walkman. I had a minor crisis as I faced the inevitable sense of my past fading into oblivion when I momentarily couldn’t find my Walkman, but I found it. And it was dirty.

So I did some maintenance, then realized we used to have a much more intimate relationship with our electronics. Now I buy a $1,400 iPhone and just expect it will work. I become indignant when it doesn’t, because it always seems to have something to do with updates that come from some cloud I can never see.

But I also never clean it. I never caress it with a Q tip. Sure, sometimes it earns a rice bath when it takes an accidental hit of H2O. But that’s it. Beyond that, I have no idea how to care for my electronics.

Tonight, though, tonight I did. When the old tape that my grandfather sent from Australia in the mail in the early 1980s didn’t play right, I knew what to do.

Our relationship with technology is constantly evolving. On the eve of the year 2000, we all began to panic that the computers we had built were about the collapse the modern world order because they would get confused when 99 turned to 00.

On a beach in Mexico, sitting around a chair with tequila shots at its centre, we were intentionally off-grid should the computers crash everything. No such horror came to be, and we flew on planes back to Canada shortly after in the same world order that existed before.

And thank goodness for that, because in the year 2000 three Tlellians were born, three that graduated this year from GidGalang Kuuyas Naay Secondary School. Isabella Decock-Perry, Taro Oike, and Emma Mitchelle all came to this world in 2000.

Now they are 18 and going out into the wider world. They will go and learn, through school and through life, and return for a visit, or perhaps to stay. All three are lovely individuals, and collectively, as Tlell, we celebrate watching them grow and, now, leave the nest, armed with their phones that hold more computing power than we ever dreamed possible.

I only had a minor nervous breakdown when I realized my own daughter was turning nine. Exactly half way to being 18. How could it be that close already?

Email me at to complain about your technology, or to send it a get-well card, since there’s really nothing else we can do in this day and age. Or email me if there is a person you want to celebrate, preferably someone at least loosely associated with Tlell.

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