Life at Our Fingertips, Thanks to ENIAC

ca. 1940s © CORBIS

By Marnie Diem, Coordinator of Technological Adventures

On February 14, 1946, the first electronic computer was unveiled at the University of Pennsylvania.  The ENIAC took up 1,500 square feet, and weighed as much as 15 cars.  Today’s computers can be as small as a notebook, and weigh a pound.  Talk about a drastic change, and it’s only been 73 years!

I remember my first laptop, a high school graduation present.  It was a Toshiba Satellite, clocking in at around 6.5 pounds, and filling my backpack.  Now?  I have a computer in my pocket in today’s iPhone XS.  Everything is at my fingertips, and I can’t imagine life without it!

I often describe myself as a digital native from the wrong generation.  Today’s kids are digital natives at their fullest.  They don’t know life without the convenience of having an iPad to entertain them at all times.  They don’t know car rides without screens or dinners at restaurants without iPhones.  They don’t realize that their “unplugged camp life” used to be daily life.

Because of this, we are experiencing a whole new way of connecting with children, one that is foreign to many, especially those not in the education world.  While some things like dedicated computer labs have gone by the wayside, sometimes “old school” should – and does – win.

Since youngsters spend so much time plugged into screens, we are very mindful at Hillel about making sure technology use at school is meaningful, purposeful, and enhances the learning experience for our students.  At home, it’s easy for parents to entertain kids by handing them a tablet or plugging them into a video game.  Similarly at school, it is easy for teachers to direct students to a website to watch a video or to Google Docs to type an essay.

But instead of simply allowing students to watch a video, teachers employ tools such as EdPuzzle and PlayPosit to pose reflection questions to students throughout the video, creating an interactive learning experience.  Tools like FlipGrid and even Seesaw allow learners to have verbal, digital conversations in a safely-controlled learning environment.  Even tools as basic as Google Docs allow students to edit and receive feedback in real time.

Although I am the Coordinator of Technological Adventures, one of my favorite sayings is that we never want to use technology for technology’s sake.  If something can be done just as meaningfully using pencil and paper, then maybe it should be!  While I rely on and enjoy technology immensely, I also recognize how lucky I was to grow up in a time where car rides were for conversations and silly games, after-school hours were spent buried in legos, riding horses, or playing softball, and where my whole life wasn’t one click away from public domain.

Change is the only constant in life, and one of the hardest things to handle.  While we may not see it at the time, hindsight helps us understand that a computer taking up a whole room wasn’t the best use of space, and sometimes, texting the person in the next room isn’t the best use of our time.

So as challenging as it may be to unplug in today’s world, we owe our children the opportunity to understand that life exists beyond screens, that sometimes, face-to-face conversation, (even via Facetime!) is better than a text conversation, and that ultimately, some of our best experiences are better stored not on social media, but in our brains.


3 Responses to Life at Our Fingertips, Thanks to ENIAC

  1. Wonderful blog, Marnie! Reading this reminded me of the time in 1st grade at Hillel (Mrs. Charlip’s classroom) that my father brought in an Apple II+ to show my classmates. This very well might have been the first time a personal computer entered the school. It wasn’t long after this (1982) that Hillel purchased an Apple computer for the library. I remember waiting in a long line to use that one computer (probably to program a pixel to move across the screen in BASIC). The school has come a long way since then and it’s funny to think back to those times as I watch my kids use their school-issued Chromebooks. Please keep up the important work you do helping Hillel grow technologically in the Digital Age.

  2. Andrea Trivax says:

    As a musician, technology has definitely enhanced my life as both a musician and a teacher. With my phone or iPad, there is always a metronome or pitch pipe or ukulele tuner close at hand. Finale music notation software allows me to write out arrangements, separate the parts, change keys, and print in a fraction of the time that it used to take to write out by hand. In my classroom, Garageband allows students to compose music, even if they don’t play an instrument, and other tools teach students pitch awareness and beat and rhythm skills.

    However, as Marnie explained, not everything that can be done with technology should be done with technology. There is still great value in experiencing music in real time, singing and playing “analog” instruments and having the experience of learning from your mistakes. The world isn’t always auto-tuned and the aural awareness, beat and kinesthetic experiences of music has benefits way beyond playing “Twinkle Twinkle”.

  3. Gabi Burman says:

    Jason, I remember sixth grade science, in the same K-4 science room we have today, computers lined up in the middle of the room, and we learned the language C. Do you remember that?

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