Thursday, December 31, 2009

Y2K: Overkill of all overkills

It seems impossible, but it was ten years ago tonight that the news business lost its collective mind.

(Update: For an opposing view go this blog)

Fueled by months of hype and ridiculous predictions, broadcast and print media tried to outdo each other with angles on the Y2K scare that in today's light seem cartoonish.

The Flint Journal was no exception. I bowed out. I'm not one for hype and I prefer to work the holidays alone. So I was not one of those who volunteered to man the newsroom to watch the end-of-the-world-as-we-knew-it story unfold.

The metro editor was not happy that I was skeptical of all his efforts to find more and more angles to this story. It seemed to me, rightly so as it turned out, that nothing was going to happen. That somehow the worst thing that might occur is that a clock or two might suddenly reset to 1900, but I was not among those who believed the power grid would fail, that the lights would go out in Georgia and everywhere else and that we would be plunged into World War III.

So while my wife and I enjoyed a night dining and dancing at the local American Legion Hall, many of my colleagues were gladly taking triple time pay to cover the end of the world.

One reporter was assigned to stay with a Lapeer County survivalist family in their underground, well-stocked bunker. The couple predicted they would be overrun by unprepared neighbors, but were ready to meet the assault with firearms and sturdy locks.

How silly it must have felt for them to crawl out the next morning with their neighbors snug in bed.

But there were reporters at City Hall, at the police department, and stationed throughout the county waiting for the predicted disaster that never came. What no one ever was willing to answer was the question of where the newspaper would be printed if the disaster the editors so anticipated actually happened.

My wife and I left the smokey Legion Hall early and watched Peter Jennings on ABC welcome in the new year from around the world, each hour on the hour. The reporters were almost disappointed to report that no problems, power outages, or riots had occurred anywhere.

When the clock rolled around to midnight here in the Eastern time zone, the lights stayed on, the computers and clocks still worked and Y2K fizzled like a wet firecracker.

I lifted a non-alcoholic beverage to my wife and toasted my good sense in staying home that night.


Kevin McKague said...

There is, of course, the possibility that Y2K was only not a problem because of the hard work and preparation of a lot of computer programmers prior to Jan. 1, 2000.

Many writers, includingFarhad Manjoo believe that the success we had in avoiding a potential problem with Y2K has given people a false sense of security in the face of other looming problems.

I think he might have a point.

Kevin McKague said...

Here is a better link:

Jim of L-Town said...

Yes, Kevin, I've head that argument too. I also believe that the Y2K "problem" might have been invented by the computer programmers to drum up lots of useless work.

In journalism school you are taught to follow the dollar. The root of an issue is often at the source of those making money off of it.

I would agree that the hard work may have prevented a disaster except that I know many, many folks who had computers and electronic devices who did nothing to them and Voila! on New Year's Day they still worked just as they had before the Apocolypse (that's probably spelled wrong, but it's dark in the house and I don't want to wake up my wife to get it at this hour).

I'll check out Farhad's post and come back.

Jim of L-Town said...

Even with a massive government effort many items or systems would have been missed and yet no major failures (except for those reported by the same folks who live off the birther, 9/11 conspiracy theories) were reported.

Not every business fixed their computers and a computer programmer I knew at the time said nothing was going to happen to my computer even if I didn't fix it, which I didn't and it was an old Acer purchased long before anyone was doing anything about the issue.

That same young man was making lots of money making "fixes" to calm the fears of his customers.

Sure, it was worth a look and an investigation, but like the very H1N1 scare referred to in the article it fizzled in its reality.

I have been a party to too many of these media hypes not to believe it simply spun out of control.

But I always appreciate your links to the other side and encourage everyone to check them out.

What I do here is opinion, not news so it's wise to give what I say the same skeptical eye that I give to most things.

Anonymous said...

Y2K: Overkill. Yep. The biggest NonEvent ever. The bank I worked at spent 1,ooo's of $$$ to 'fix' the problem and the endless theories of what could happen were amazing. I was planning to attend a huge New Year's event in DC and my boss made me cancel. The company policy was 'any employee not readily available at 12:01 am 1/1/2000 was automatically terminated'. So I had to cancel going to the wonderful party and had friends in instead. We sat with baited breath at midnite waiting for the asteroid to hit or whatever and all we heard were a few hornblowers across the street. We all laughed to the point of hysteria. I've also heard that tehcnically, the real turning year was 2001 ------

Hey, btw, for that same New Year, the rumor was that champagne would be at a premium so we bought a case of the stuff.......from Oasis winery.....home of the White House Crashers. I still have a few bottles. Wonder if it's worth something NOW?

Susan said...

Y2K was a great year to be retired.