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Do You Dream In Sony? A Reading Of The Sony Mz-R91 Minidisk Walkman

Part 1 Dissertation 2001
Michael Paris
University of Westminster | UK
do you dream in Sony?
A reading of the Sony MZ-R91 Minidisk Walkman.

‘The Sony Walkman has done more to change human perception than any virtual reality gadget. I can’t remember any technological experience since that was quite so wonderful as being able to take music and move it through landscapes and architecture.’
(William Gibson: 1993 Time Out. 6 October: p49)

This dissertation is about the relationship between technology and culture, and how they each impact upon the other. I discuss this theme through an extensive analysis of the Sony MZ-R91 Minidisk Walkman, which is a piece of consumer technology that I own and use.

I begin by placing the product within a theoretical context by outlining the notions of technology described by Siegfried Giedeon and Marshal Mcluhan. I then proceed to detail the history of the Sony Corporation and to describe the processes involved in the creation of their products by referring primarily to the Walkman. I continue by examining my ‘need’ for the MZ-R91, the ‘form’ of the Minidisk player itself and my ‘use’ of the product. To conclude I attempt to draw these threads together and highlight the complex interaction between the MZ-R91, the user and the culture which produces and consumes it.

Underlying the text are two key themes, that of a mechanical concept of technology primarily focusing on the last century and the electrical or digital technologies of today. These not always distinct forms of technology are drawn out from the MZ-R91 which I state has a heritage that speaks of both these notions.

Parallel to the main text are a series of images and quotes which are intended to run as a separate narrative, supporting and expanding from the main themes of the text.

‘I went to Soweto at the time of the election that saw Nelson Mandela sweep into power in South Africa. Among the many things that caught my eye in those densely crowded streets were children and teenagers wearing personal stereos made of wood, head pieces of string and dancing to imaginary sounds. What do you call those I asked. “Walkman,” they said. Some said “Sony Walkman” ’.
(The Private World of the Walkman. Guardian. Oct 11, 1999)


Barthes, Roland. Empire of Signs (Paladin, 1983)

DuGay, Paul Doing Cultural Studies- The Story of the Sony Walkman (Sage, 1997)

Giedeon, Siegfried Mechanisation Takes Command (Oxford University Press, 1955)

Kunkel, Karl Digital Dreams-The Work of the Sony Design Centre (Universe Publishing, 1999)

McLuhan, Marshal On McLuhen- Forward through the rear view mirror (Prentice-Hall Canada Inc. 1997)

Michael Paris

Michael Paris' dissertation, 'Do you dream in Sony', was a fine and sustained piece of writing. At its core was the question as to how the Sony Walkman and its successor achieved such status when an earlier and similar product had been unsuccessful.
One of the main strengths of the dissertation was how it managed to move fluently from this initial enquiry to a discussion of Sony's research and development policies and marketing techniques as well as the circumstances of the company's inception, without ever losing sight of the original question.
Neither was the dissertation without a dry sense of humour, taking pleasure in the blatantly promotional nature of the carefully controlled information that Sony put out about itself. In this and other respects the dissertation was a refreshing change from the quasi-academic regurgitation that too many students feel obliged to offer at Diploma level.
I can vouch for Michael Paris' background reading even though most of it was not directly referred to in the text. What was in evidence, however, was the search for an answer to an interesting puzzle and the light it throws on the consumer as well as the manufacturer and designer of some products that have achieved fame or notoriety.

Philip Hughes
Dissertation tutor, University of Westminster.

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