For those New Yorkers — straphangers and street-walkers alike — boomboxes were once the scourge of New York. Despite nostalgic Times pieces heralding their 1980s impact, the boombox meant music pervaded public space in ways it just shouldn’t. With the advent of the Walkman, personalized music delivered via headphone became the norm, but lately, a new trend has me thinking about the boombox again.
That trend, of course, is a public airing of music. As the Walkman begat the iPod and headphones grew smaller, they also grew leakier. Nowadays, no subway ride is complete without the tinny sounds of someone else’s music filling the air. Today, though, I got to experience the ultimate in subway annoyances. Now that most smartphones have the capacity to play music, people are starting to leave their headphones at home. Using the built-in speaker, selfish riders play their songs into the general atmosphere of the subway. Today, for 30 minutes on my way to work, I got a free listening of some classic Michael Jackson tunes.
Amongst the door-blockers, pole-huggers and leg-spreaders, it’s tough to find someone more disrespectful and more infuriating that the public music player. It shows a certain selfishness and disregard for public spaces that has become a hallmark of the New York City subway over the decades. No one misses that era of the boombox for just that reason, and having it return in the form of a smartphone speaker is an unwelcome development indeed.