Present Tense

Mr Stephen Fogarty, Director of Health and Physical Education

I first saw and heard an iPod in February of 2004. It was the year that I began teaching at Brisbane Girls Grammar School and one of the then Year 12 girls had brought one (together with a set of small, thin-sounding speakers) along to the Physical Education Lifesaving Camp at Marrapatta.

At the time, it was relatively new technology with the device having been introduced to the world in October of 2001 and, by February 2004, Apple had sold ‘only’ two million iPods worldwide (a far cry from the claimed 390 million sold worldwide today). I remember that everyone on the camp was impressed with it — not with the sound quality; it was poor and the music struggled to find its audience through the inadequate speakers — but with its capacity to store songs. With the iPod (and we can now take this to refer to any MP3-based device that plays compressed music) time has shown that, as consumers, we have been more than willing to sacrifice sound quality for the advantages of compact storage and ease of exchange. The iPod was at the vanguard of this movement and we now see it in the way that we watch television programs, music video clips, and YouTube. We embrace low fidelity on devices that have the capacity to provide ‘ultra-high definition’ because we value the vastly enhanced access and the quantity-over-quality volume and range of the online archive. Even those of us who, like me, hang on to an old-school music collection and remember the richer sounding music of our youth, have acquiesced because, ultimately, the allure of being able to carry that collection around with us in our pockets was too great. I am nostalgic about the music; less so about the way it is delivered (although, I still have a turntable and a CD player, for when I really want to listen). In any case, today’s adolescents (the current generation of Grammar girls) do not mourn the loss of the richer sound quality of my earliest music experiences because they have lived their remembered lives without it. They will no doubt find other things to be nostalgic about.

All of this reflection has been brought about because I have just finished reading Simon Reynolds’s Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction to Its Own Past. Using pop culture (but mainly music), Reynolds presents a detailed examination of our society’s love of, and deeply embedded reliance on, nostalgia as a way to move forward. Our present and future is heavily influenced by our cultural past to the extent that we have become shackled by our own ‘retromania’. Reynolds argues that, as the pace of modern life increases, we spend so much time looking to the past (and the obvious implication that things were better then) for inspiration, that we no longer look to celebrate the now. We no longer look to create things that are truly new. The concept itself is not new. While at university I studied a sociology unit where the lecturer presented newspaper and other media reports going back two hundred years, each of them alluding to, or specifically referencing, the idea that things were better twenty years ago. One need look no further than the current trend for bands to tour on the twentieth anniversary of an album, playing the tracks in the order in which they appear on the album. It is not surprising. When we look to the past, we are reminded of our younger selves, a time when we had fewer responsibilities, and a time and place when and where things were ‘better’. During times of change or upheaval, we look to the familiar. We return to things that are comforting. But change, of course, is inexorable and the extent to which we notice it depends largely on the degree to which we are directly affected by it.

Brisbane Girls Grammar School has changed. In this, our 140th year, it would be rather obvious to point out that we are not the same now as we were in 1875. It is perhaps less obvious to point out that we are not the same as we were in 2014. Three-quarters of the way through the introduction of Year 7 (although when one considers the years of planning leading up to January of this year, we are much further along than that) we observe subtle differences in the School every day. Interestingly, these differences are not necessarily related to the specific ‘newness’ of the Year 7 cohort. Truthfully, the School is always in a state of change (as is every institution, community and, indeed, every individual) so the idea that we should spend time longing for the perceived riches of the past is misplaced.

As a school (particularly one as venerated as ours), we naturally and rightly reflect on our past. We review our successes and failures. We identify the things that we do well and we ask: ‘What do we need to do better?’. An understanding of the past is important, but the School changes (as it always does), and we cannot fall prey to ‘retromania’. We cannot embrace change and still keep everything the same. At some point, we have to sacrifice ‘sound quality’ for ‘ease of exchange’.

Our current cohort should not be forced to listen to music on turntables and CD players, just as they should not be made to feel that the best time has already passed them by. There is no better time to be a Year 12 student at Girls Grammar. There is no better time to be a Year 7 student. In saying as much, we are acknowledging a simple truth – the best time is now! Anything less than our full attention on the now does our current Brisbane Girls Grammar School cohort a disservice. Their ‘time’ must necessarily be the best one — because it is.

Apple Inc. (n.d.). History of the iPod. Retrieved 2015, October 8 from

Costello, S. (2015, October 5). This is the number of iPods sold all-time. Retrieved from

Reynolds, S. (2011). Retromania: Pop culture’s addiction to its own past. London: Faber and Faber.