Read the edited version as published as a Guest Opinion in the Philadelphia Daily News.
I feel sad for them. You know who they are. You probably have one as a friend or neighbor. Heck, you might even be one yourself.
I'm talking about those people who fell prey to those gloom and doomers spouting about the end of the world, declarations of martial law, widespread power outages, chaos and looting following the calendar rollover from 1999 to the 'new millennium' of the year 2000. Nevermind that the new millennium actually starts on 1/1/01, not 1/1/00. The dreaded Y2K bug was supposed to rip civilization apart at the seams. As we all know, it didn't happen.
One fellow in the Midwest spent about $20,000 on foodstuffs. It's in his basement, which he had to expand to contain all of it. He's still reluctant to admit it was overkill. He says that we're not out of the woods, yet. We'll see.
TIME Magazine ran a story about another Midwest family who hunkered down in their canned-food filled basement for New Year's. They played Monopoly, and listened to Cheryl Crow CDs all night. The Y2K bug came and went. The world didn't end. Someone should tell them to come out now.
Another couple spent 18 years -- yup, 18 years -- preparing for Y2K. They buried 12 school busses underground and built a bomb-proof bunker complete with enough supplies to last a year. I don't know if they're still inside or not.
And who ever said that the power was going to go out? I have no idea where that came from. The power is more likely to go out during severe weather, rather than when we turn the calendar to a different year. I have been thinking about getting a generator for my home to use if the power goes out in a rainstorm, which would stop my sump pump from pumping water out of my basement. There's got to be some unused generators for sale now. I'm willing to pay $10. Any takers?
Some companies totally shut down operations over new year's weekend. Employees were told to stay home from work. Large scale computers and networks were turned off. Many people even turned off their home computers. The following Monday, most of these systems were turned back on. Most came back, a few failed. Some of those that failed did so because of the stress of the hardware being turned off and on again. Some wouldn't come to life because internal batteries had run out of power, a common problem in PCs. These failures were not caused by the Y2K bug. They were caused by people's fear of Y2K. These companies declared victory over Y2K. In reality, they were down for several days, and it was self-inflicted.
The federal government printed $50 billion in extra cash to be distributed to financial institutions just in case there was a run on the banks. They had to be prepared. Or, to put it another way, They had a rational fear of people's irrational fear of Y2K.
We were told to be prepared by the national and local news media. Where did they get their information? Those reliable politicians and religious fanatics? Or perhaps the self-appointed experts who just happen to be selling Y2K survival kits? I guess we can't be blamed for getting a little excited or anxious. After all, no one wanted to take any chances.
But the bug that was supposed to blow apart all we hold dear didn't. It fizzled. Most people watched those beautiful, heart warming pictures from around the globe of people from all different cultures and countries embrace the dawn of the new year in spectacular and moving fashion. It was about revelry and spiritual renewal, not guns or prolonged darkness or even 200 cans of beef stew. The world braced for impact. And slowly people realized that there was nothing to worry about. It was okay to celebrate the new year.
The next morning we watched an obviously disappointed Sam Donaldson search for calamities to report on. There were minor incidents, of course. But I got the feeling that Sam was somehow let down. He finally decided to tell us what a good job the media did in not hyping the Y2K bug. Over my laughter, I then heard him tell us all that could have gone wrong, none of which actually did. It made me wonder why I was watching.
Don't get me wrong. The Y2K problem did exist, although not in the extreme sense it was hyped to be. The computer industry did have to rally to fix the software involved. The bug was dealt with in time for January 1. A tangible victory was scored by the hoard of hardware and software professionals who rolled up their sleeves and tested and fixed those computer things that were broken. According to the Gartner Group, (one of those self-appointed experts,) over $600 billion was spent worldwide in preparation for and remediation of Y2K problems. That's 600,000 million dollars, or over one-half of a trillion dollars, to put it in perspective. It's quite a price to pay. Almost certainly, some of that money was wasted. Some of it was spent on systems that never needed upgrades. And some of it was spent on government and corporate Y2K command and control centers.
Was too much money spent? Probably. Did we need to do all that work? For the most part, certainly. Were people over-reacting? Definitely. Was it all worth it? I think so. Fixing software problems is necessary. Heck, it's part of my job. Some systems would definitely have failed unless changes were made. Keeping things in perspective is important, too.
So what about all that canned peaches and chocolate pudding that's lying around in people's unused Y2K stockpile? Let's put it to good use. Charities like food banks and shelters need this kind of stuff. Winter is a tough time of year, and charities are always looking for donations. Wouldn't it be uplifting to know that someone, somewhere can benefit from all the extra energy spent on fear? Perhaps those people who were victimized by the media and succumbed to the fear of Y2K can feel good about their efforts in preparing for the disaster that never came.
Besides, how much Spam can you eat in a year anyway?
Alan M. Impink