Material- comments please : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

Our society, of the late 20th century, is a complex and interdependent one. The disk that this file came on, for instance, was probably imported from Asia, where the components -the floppy-silicon core, the aluminium sheath, the plastic body and the paper label-sticker- most likely came from a number of other places -for instance, the aluminium could have been mined in southern China, processed in Hanoi, and shipped by train to the disk factory. Not to mention the machines required to make the disks, and the components needed to keep the machines in service; the power (probably electric) that keeps the disks going, the trained minimum-wage workers who operate the machines, the computerised banking system that allows the importer to pay the disk manufacturer for the products (the machine on which the record of the disk maker's profits sit, and from which the employees' money is distributed, could well be physically in the United States or Japan.) Not to mention the transport -planes, trains and ships- required to get the disk in. If one of those factors -let's say that something happened to the aluminium processing in Hanoi- went down, there would be problems. But not major ones. The disk maker could find another place that sold aluminium. That's the free market. It would be an inconvenience, but not much more. The price of aluminum might rise slightly owing to the decreased supply. This interdependency can tolerate minor, everyday type strains. But say something went down that would take a while to bring up again. For instance, let's theorise that all the aluminum mines blew up simultaneously. With no raw aluminium -even if everything else is in perfect order- then there would be no disks. And the loss of disks would cause problems. It would be a nuisance factor that could ultimately impede attempts to rebuild the aluminum mines. Now let's say that something big went down. Like the power system. The power system is part of the so-called Iron Triangle (banking and telecommunications are the other two corners). If electric power stopped being produced or distributed, 99.99% of businesses would be brought to their knees. So would home life. The loss of power would greatly impede efforts to bring it back online. In a normal case, power failure is restricted to a certain area. Help from unaffected areas can be carried out. This is also what happens in the case of natural disasters; if there's another quake in LA, it only affects a certain region in California. The rest of the United States is fine, is able to spare the resources to help LA and bring the city online.

What if the power went down everywhere? Or even in just a significant area? Say, not in LA but across the entire West Coast. Beyond a certain critical point, the ratio of affected areas to nonaffected areas becomes low enough that failure can't be fixed. Remember, the LA quake shut down most business in LA (for at least a couple days.) This had a negative effect on all the companies in the quake-unaffected areas who relied on LA suppliers. They couldn't recieve stuff. The companies that depended on them were in trouble, too. Thankfully the LA quake was not particularly bad and most of the LA companies were up and running again before too long, thanks to external assistance.

This critical-mass is called the cascade effect, of businesses shutting down. It happens exponentially. One failed industry -or even a failed large-company- will cause problems for the people who depend on it. If those problems are critical enough, the dependent companies may fail. In which case, the companies dependent on it, fail. Our system is resilient enough to take a few failures and keep going. But beyond a certain critical point the cascade effect becomes catastrophic.

This is why y2k will be bad.

-- Leo (, February 19, 1999


Hi Leo: This reminds me of that "I, Pencil" example which, if you haven't seen, is at

First a couple of questions: Who is the target audience for this and Is this a part of that booklet/pamphlet that you were putting together a while ago? I ask this because what you posted here is fine, if it is to be a part of something else that provides information regarding some of the other important reasons why Y2K will be a problem. In other words, the cascade affect is a critical concept in grasping Y2K but certainly not the only one. So if what you posted here is meant to 'stand alone', may I suggest that at least the last line be changed to "This is one reason why y2k will be bad".

-- Rob Michaels (, February 19, 1999.

I Pencil

Very worth reading. Also very good for teaching a lesson on industry to kids.

-- Hotlinker (, February 19, 1999.

Also see this analogy between Y2K and the Indianapolis 500...

-- Kevin (, February 19, 1999.

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