Back to Contents of Issue: November 1999

by Caimin Jones

2000-end of the century, end of the world or a non-event

With the dawning of the new millennium getting ever closer, it's now international law that 97% of all newspaper articles must include the phrase, "With the dawning of the new millennium getting ever closer . . ." The new millennium will, of course, begin in exactly the same way as the previous one ended. You might e-mail a friend or two, politely inquiring precisely how much you embarrassed yourself, but hangovers and related consequences aside, there will be no perceivable difference between December 31 and January 1.

"What about the millennium bug?" you say. If you ask me, the Y2K situation consists almost entirely of experts with pricey solutions, popping up just about everywhere. There they are, informing anyone who'll listen-and buy their book, video, and software-that since Everything We Have Ever Known will end at midnight on New Year's Eve, we'd better get the kids used to grass sandwiches. And learn how to dig our own toilets. But as far as I can see, the worst thing to happen in the early hours of January 1 is the possibility of the odd ATM card not working. Frankly, this is more likely to be caused by its owner having previously drunk the entire contents of the account.

Minority view
I realize that I hold a minority view of the situation. According to research carried out earlier this year by Nikkei Market Access, almost 60% of large businesses in Japan expect Y2K problems in their systems. But wait a moment. Of these, almost half say any problems can be rectified in a few days and 19.6% say they can do it in a few hours. That's hardly Armageddon.

Of course, if your company is an extremely large one, or one where public safety is a concern, taking simple precautions is only sensible. East Japan Railway will stop its trains just before midnight on December 31 and wait ten minutes, "just in case"-a sensible precaution that isn't going to greatly affect anyone. When a business as large as East Japan Railway-the biggest railway company in the world-believes that the height of its millennium disruption is going to be a ten-minute delay, then the Y2K hype would seem to be misplaced.

So, the major millennium problem-aside from people like me saying, "I told you so"-is likely to be the question, "What will we do when it's over?" There will be nothing to count down to. There'll be the usual mundane things, of course, but after the supposed Greatest Party Of All Time, Uncle Ralphie's 60th birthday festivities likely just isn't going to do it.

Major casualties
It follows, then, that there will only be two major casualties of Y2K: the bandwagon industry it spawned and the media. Type in Y2K as a search term and your browser's going to fill up with more pages than a Hemingway novel. There are hundreds-probably thousands-of sites on the subject. There are programs, handbooks, broadcasts-there's even a Y2K novel, for the seriously socially challenged. What will happen to these thriving businesses after the hype has died? Who cares?

The world's mass media will suffer too. According to figures I've just made up, every nine seconds a newspaper editor somewhere in the world wakes up in a cold sweat. For they are well aware that by January, they will have long forgotten how to fill the kilometers of space currently devoted to anything remotely connected to the millennium and, in particular, the millen- nium bug.

And when you think about it, the whole story is a bizarre thing to cut down trees for: Computers may not always work as they are supposed to. This is news? Anyone who's ever used a computer for more than a week can tell you that. As a "news" story, it's on a par with, "Bill Gates Is Rich," or "The Internet: Sometimes It's Slow."

So start counting down to the Greatest Anti-Climax Of All Time. And the forthcoming international law that guarantees 97% of all newspaper articles in the first half of 2000 must include the phrase, "Now that the new millennium is upon us . . ."

Caimin Jones is a freelance writer based in Holland.

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