Remembering The Y2K Paranoid Fest

y2k the end is near

As we approached the end of the last century, there were a lot of concerns over the serious issues that surrounded the looming Y2K problems. Nobody knew exactly what to expect on January 1st in 2000. General opinion held to the notion that Y2K related problems were going to cause the failure of many basic services, like phone, water, and utilities. In contrast to popular opinion, I believed that those problems would show in a much more positive light. I thought the whole situation would cause society to take a more analytical look at how we did business, including our data and technology that we used on a daily basis. Additionally, this new millennium, I believed, would usher in an era of huge opportunities for new technological advances. I believed that the preparations put in place at that time for averting the Y2K crisis, would give us an advantage that would lead to a minimizing of future technological breakdowns, and usher in some new technology that would ensure a veritably smooth transition to this new millennium.

My main focus and concerns over the Y2K crisis, was the fact that we knew exactly when it was scheduled to start. It was said that our appointment with destiny could not be avoided or postponed. During the last 18 months leading up to Y2K, we were bombarded with loads of information from the media, stating wild predictions about the impact Y2K would have on our society. The entire problem begins about 40 years prior to Y2K, when programmers in the then ‘new computer industry’ managed to make a fateful decision. They decided to save space and memory by recording the dates of the year with only 2 digits. Sadly, nobody anticipated that those early mainframes and computer programs would have been using those systems still when we got to 1999. The result was an expectation that this technological glitch was going to cause all computer software using just 2 digits to identify its year, to actually misinterpret that “00” and define it as being ‘1900’ instead of ‘2000’. I remember it well.

Overall, there were significant improvements made during the 18 months that led up to the Y2K experience. That proved to stem some of the impact of the problems that were being predicted. In the light of all the potential disruption that the year 2000 was supposed to experience, our government was providing encouraging information regarding the status of its agencies, that assured the public that almost all of the financial institutions and the utility companies were Y2K compliant. Then the Energy Secretary went on the Oprah Winfrey show, on November 29th, and stated that very sentiment again. Even though he stated that utilities were 99% Y2K ready, the possibility remained that around 26 utilities out of the 3,000 were not Y2K compliant. That meant there was a chance that some communities would experience power failures. In addition to that, 99.9% of all the financial institutions were ready, but about 5 banks out of 10,000 total were not ready. We were also told that banks were not going to run out of money because there was a surplus of over 50 million dollars being printed in anticipation of an increased cash demand just before New Years Eve. The banks themselves recommended that if people were expecting to make large withdrawals, they should do it before December 31st to avoid adding to the excessive transaction numbers on that day, and keep from  overloading our banking system.

NYC Power Outage

On the other hand, most large businesses and corporations had spent millions on updating their computer systems for addressing Y2K problems and averting system crashes. There were a lot of resources being allocated to continuously monitor situation and detect any errors and miscalculations. It was mostly the small businesses that didn’t have the financial resources to correct their computer systems who were really concerned. They believed they might face disruptions that could throw them into bankruptcy.

Another disruption that was throwing out a scare, was the daily routine activities, like elevators shutting down from their systems not being able to interpret the date change. What was scary about the Y2K crisis was how the business world was totally vulnerable because of all the other systems that might experience crashes. For example, a lot of PBX (Private Beach Exchange) phone systems were equipped with non-compliant embedded microchips. These microchips could have caused those systems to fail.

There were also literally billions of embedded chips hidden within machinery and equipment that were normally used to make life more comfortable, efficient, and safe. However, many of the microchips driving them were not Y2K compliant. That was yet another cause for concern, as the possibility existed for disruptions that could last for weeks before they could be fixed. One good piece of news was that our major telecommunications companies were all Y2K compliant, so our phone service was expected to operate fine.

In spite of the Y2K crisis, our economy continued to stay strong, and showed no signs of any full-scale economic depression. So all the predictions were just a bunch of paranoid hype. The risk was there, but nothing major happened, and all was well with the world.

I preferred to stay optimistic throughout the entire event, believing that all the major system failures that were expected to take place would be averted. I had faith in the extensive preparations that were made to avoid that disaster. It was estimated that there was over 600 billion dollars spend worldwide just on that problem alone. There were maybe a handful of communities who lost some power or some other kind of utilities, but overall, the doomsday scenario never happened.

The world didn’t end like they thought it would, and the panic that led up to this event dissipated along with the hype. I will never celebrate nye without thinking back on those days and how it all went down. I’ll just look at the New Years Eve lights and think about ‘the disaster that wasn’t’.

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