Apple Computer introduced the world to the Macintosh with an ad during Super Bowl XVIII that literally shattered the image of oppression created by George Orwell in 1984, his cautionary novel that predicted a stark future in which freedom is replaced by the ever-present Big Brother who knows when you're sleeping and knows when you're awake. In the commercial, as corporate drones watched a wall-sized television transmission of Big Brother's squawking, a female Olympian ran into the room and tossed a sledgehammer at the screen, smashing it and silencing their oppressor. The message was simple: computers would help prevent the gray-on-gray world of paranoia and slavery the book had predicted. Just as Orwell couldn't have known whether his predictions would come true, nor could Apple have known just how prophetic their statement about computers would be.

It's been almost 20 years since that commercial first aired, and computer technology has progressed to a point past anything anyone would have dared imagine at the dawn of the Information Age. And as computers have proven time and again, every time someone said it couldn't be done, someone else proved it could.

Workforce reductions have forced electricians to pick up added responsibilities, many of which require skills they may not have already had. But with a heavier workload and less time to do it in, those electricians rarely have the opportunity to the get the training they need to survive. Thanks to the computer, though, they can put in a full day's work and then “attend” computer-based courses offered on the Web or CD-ROMs without ever leaving their home. But as with any time technology has grown to make our lives easier, there will be the feet-draggers who will say they're just fine doing things the way they always have. Managing Editor Matthew Halverson's article on page 38 looks at the e-learning options available to electricians and finds that they're not as scary as you might think.

But it's not just the programs that have made computers more powerful. Mobility and toughness have made PCs easier to take anywhere and use in any condition. Computers designed for the construction jobsite are built with a titanium armor that may just have been able to fend off that sledgehammer-wielding Olympian in Apple's commercial. Staff Writer Amy Florence Fischbach discusses the portable ruggedized computers available to contractors on page C4.

Can you honestly say that two decades ago you thought electricians would one day be able to connect with virtual schools through their computers and take classes from home? And who would have known that those bulky computers that used to take up an entire room would one day fit in your pocket or be able to withstand the jobsite environment? Yet as computer technology continues to prove yesterday's soothsayers wrong, the only question left is, Why did it take so long?

The futures depicted in both 1984 and Apple's commercial have come and gone, and both seem almost quaint in retrospect. The fact is, predictions are rarely worth the time necessary to make them. More often than not they're outdated before they're even spoken aloud.