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On Twitter yesterday, the Examiner‘s Kytja Weir noted what at first glance struck me as something of a cultural moment: The proposed new Metro map, which the WMATA board reviewed yesterday, no longer uses what she calls a boombox—-but what looks to me like a hand-held radio—-for its “No Audio” icon. Instead we get something more vertical and iPod-like.
If the iconic map—- designed by Lance Wyman more than 30 years ago—-really wanted to tap into the 1970s and 1980s’ pop-cultural associations of urban noise, it probably should have gone whole hog. But handheld radios and boomboxes haven’t had a place on the Metro map for a long time. When you see a ghetto blaster in public now, it’s as an intentional throwback. NPR tracked the boombox’s decline in a 2009 obituary:
As the ’80s wore on, cities started enforcing noise ordinances. The Walkman became popular, and it was lighter and cheaper. Gradually, people stopped listening to music together. The rap world eventually left the corner and moved online. People still pass songs around, but now it’s on file-sharing sites and blogs. Headphones are universally accepted, and eye contact is frowned upon.
All of that feels a little reductive—-you still occasionally see people listening to rap on the corner—-but you can’t argue with the overall point: Communal, serendipitous music listening has become a museum piece. Literally: Fab Five Freddy‘s boombox now belongs to the National Museum of American History.
These days, the most shunned kinds of low-grade noise pollution are loud cellphone conversations, obnoxious ring tones, and noise-bleeding earphones. The era of the sidewalk selector passed a long time ago.