Doomsday crowd could be in for a disappointment : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

Doomsday crowd could be in for a disappointment

With all the hoopla surrounding Y2K and its supposed horrors, the hardest thing to survive may prove to be the anticlimax

Tuesday, February 16, 1999 GEORGE JOHNSON New York Times Service

If the more sober prognosticators are right, the millennial odometer will turn over in 10= months with scattered disruptions, some medium-sized glitches, but hardly a disaster anywhere.

About the only thing that will count as a Y2K casualty will be the vague sense of disappointment settling in on those who were hoping, deep down, for a major change. After all the excitement and anticipation, the empire of the technocrats won't have collapsed after all. Lost will be the longed-for opportunity to start over from scratch and finally bring on the Age of Aquarius.

For years, sociologists and historians have predicted that millennial anxiety would bring out a record number of religious fundamentalists and right-wing survivalists joyfully preaching doomsday scenarios and hoarding food and ammunition. Far more surprising has been the manner in which a loose coalition of New Agers, veterans of the 1960s counterculture and grassroots populists have enthusiastically embraced Y2K as a chance to cut free from their stifling addiction to the System and remake society.

This is their vision: Threatened by the collapse of the power and communications grids, the banking and financial networks, the transportation system -- all the webs imposed from on high by the technological elite -- people will join together to grow their own vegetables, energize their homes with solar cells and windmills, trade advice over the back-yard fence and "empower" their neighborhoods into old-fashioned communities.

It won't be just the misprogrammed computer chips turning back the clock at year's end. In the minds of these visionaries, Dec. 31, 1999, will be followed by 1900, a time before civilization was so dependent on the corporate superstructure.

"The Year 2000 computer problem is not just a technical problem; it is an opportunity for citizens to get together with their neighbours and prepare themselves, their families and their communities for the challenges that may lie ahead," publisher and editor Eric Utne wrote recently, announcing a 360,000-copy printing of his Utne Reader Y2K Citizen's Action Guide. A kind of Whole Earth Catalog for the new millenarianism, the booklet is filled with advice on becoming as self-sufficient as a Woodstock-era commune.

All over the country, people will drift away from their soon-to-be-darkened computer screens and meet at the community garden for a homemade cappuccino and some organic greens. Or, as Mr. Utne put it in an introduction to the guide, "Y2K is the excuse we've been waiting for to stop making so many compromises in how we know we should, and want to, live our lives." Finally, a chance to do the right thing.

While there are sensible arguments for encouraging people to prepare for the worst, some officials are worrying that the most disruptive thing about Y2K will be runs on dehydrated food, bottled water, fuel and other survival supplies.

"As it becomes clear our national infrastructure will hold, overreaction becomes one of the biggest remaining problems," John Koskinen, chairman of the President's Commission on Year 2000 Conversion, said last week.

But for some who pine for the earthy optimism of the sixties, Y2K is being greeted as something of a godsend, an antidote to the sanitized nineties. In these artificial times, the old neighbourhood food co-ops have been co-opted by superchains such as Wild Oats, Alfalfa's, Whole Foods, and Fresh Fields, where nostalgic baby boomers can scoop their own granola from plexiglass bins, pick up homeopathic potions and grab a couple of 16-ounce chemical-free porterhouse steaks for the grill.

Y2K offers the hope of returning to the real thing. "Using well-developed dialoguing and visioning processes involving the entire community, people could develop new ways to organize themselves with community-supported agriculture, barter and alternative currencies, solar and wind energy, holistic and complementary medicine, and co-ops of all kinds," write two contributors to the Utne guide, Gordon Davidson and Corinne McLaughlin, co-founders of the Center for Visionary Leadership in Washington, D.C.

One of the most enthusiastic of the Y2K apostles is Paloma O'Riley, co-founder of a Colorado-based organization named, with no apparent irony, the Cassandra Project. Like the prophet of Greek mythology who foresaw the fall of Troy, Ms. O'Riley travels the United States holding town meetings on how to preserve food, store water in 200-litre drums, foster neighbourhood support groups and generally fend for one's self in the face of a possible shutdown.

But while the Cassandra of old was cursed by Apollo to have her prophecies ignored, Ms. O'Riley, who became enthusiastic about self-sufficiency when she left New York to homestead in the Alaskan bush, finds ready audiences of people who seem to secretly long for an extended Y2K camping experience.

"We will survive this, if we all work together," she assures her followers. "Eventually, the storm will pass and we'll wade ashore -- together."

The hardest thing to survive may be the anticlimax. A litany of horror stories in an article in last month's Vanity Fair about "the Y2K nightmare" is oddly more reassuring than alarming: A batch of chemicals at Amway was rejected because a computer figured it had expired in 1900 instead of 2000; a medical-information network froze when asked to schedule a doctor's appointment in 2000.

But these incidents happened years ago, demonstrating that companies have been confronting and overcoming Y2K problems all along, as has every consumer who now carries a working credit card expiring in 00 or 01.

It is the nature of complex, intertwined systems that their behaviour cannot be precisely predicted, so the world may still be in for a shock. Some experts warned that the first would come on Jan. 1, 1999, when many systems started dealing with dates 12 months in the future. With that occasion safely behind, the next milestone is in April for companies starting a new fiscal year, and then in September, when 9/9/99 rolls around, possibly confusing some computers.

If these dates too pass uneventfully, the new millenarians will be in much the same position as the old religious fundamentalists who painstakingly add up biblical generations to calculate, and then recalculate, the day of the Second Coming. One by one, the milestones come and go, Judgment Day postponed for another time.

***** *****

Nothing wrong with a healthy degree of preparation, just in case. But anything can be taken overboard, and this Y2K thing has been overdone to death. The good thing is, those who overprepared will have plenty of supplies that will last them for a good while. The bad thing is, those whom they persuaded to overprepare will have overdisrupted their lives unnecessarily.

Another thing: it's just plain silliness to put the knee-jerk blanket label of non compos mentis on those who disagree with the doom scenario. There are plenty of sane, informed Y2K observers who just flat don't agree with that way of thinking; as the end result of careful study and analysis. No ignorance. No denial. Just disagreement, based on what we see as the facts. Y2K doom-and-gloomers don't have a monopoly on the truth, or on perceptual acuity. Milne, North, Yourdon, and Hamasaki included.

I myself do hold a somewhat more pessimistic view than that espoused in the above article, where certain overseas and 3rd world countries are concerned. Guess we'll all see for real in about 315 days, and afterwards.

-- Chicken Little (, February 19, 1999


What on earth makes you think that any rational person would be dissapointed if things work out as this idiot believes?

-- dave (, February 19, 1999.

you point out an operative concept there, Dave....."rational"

-- Chicken Little (, February 19, 1999.

"Y2K news articles and items for newcomers"

-- Kevin (, February 19, 1999.

Has been discussed in a prior thread. Thread on 2/14/99, February 19, 1999.

Yet another muddle-headed story in the NYTimes

-- Debbie Spence (, February 19, 1999.

Be quite aware that an UNEXPECTED SURPRISE may upset the balance of the world's expectations. Whether this is an Asian stock market crash or a biochemical disaster, whatever causes the Great Panic of '99 will not be forgotten, only regretted. :(

-- dinosaur (, February 19, 1999.

Doomsday crowd could be in for a disappointment. Pollyanna crowd could be in for far worse.

Wanna gamble?

-- (watch@watcher.watching), February 19, 1999.

I would LOVE to acceed to the position of this article. All I ask is the same level of facts that convinced me of the problem. I did not see a single fact, beyond the lack of PUBLISHED JAE in Jan and Feb. (Note he used the long version of the name.) HTis should surprise no one as these failures would be internal and NOT for public consumption. Show mw a fact, no spin attached, in this and I might be interested in revising my view. As it is, I'm going to Lehman's to-(umm)day (Sat).


-- Chuck, night driver (, February 20, 1999.

I've already promised my fiancee that I'll get her the appliances she really wants for the new country house "next year" if every thing is OK. My God, please let everything be OK..........

In the meantime, I will continue to plan as if humanity is bumbling toward a "short term" disaster as we have so often done before.

Nothing helps me sleep better at this time than taking another step toward being ready for a class 9-10 disaster. Or as ready as an overweight, 42 year old headhunter can be. Darn it, I like sitting at my desk with my computer and my telephone. I like the Internet. I don't want to be a dirt farmer. As I told my 13 year old daughter tonight, if things go down hard, we will be working 10 times harder to live only 1/10 as well. Still, it beats the alternative.

-- Jon Williamson (, February 20, 1999.


Opinions are like assholes - each of us has one. I have a family and it is hard to stick my head in the sand. If all this is BS then so be it the faimly will have shelter and food. If it turns out to be half of what it is suppose to be then so be it the faimly will have shelter and food. As parents there are certain responsibilities that go along with the position. I really don't have the luxery of playing with the concept.

-- Duane (, February 20, 1999.

Kevin - excellent links.

Chicken - you can never overprepare if it saves your life.

All us realists will not be disapponted at all - we all hope for just a bump in the road. Please don't insult us by saying we are all hoping for a 10.

The latest combined prediction fronm the leading y2k experts at is 7.3.

Go ahead - don't prepare - if things HTF you'll just be a drain on what society is functioning and of course on those who have prepared that choose to feed and water you.

-- Andy (, February 20, 1999.

My question for George Johnson is with windowing being the de facto standard for poor programming practices (which is what y2k is all about) and due to the fact that auditors are finding extraordinary high error rates in systems fixed by windowing techniques. As well one company windowed its system into compliance and has already had its system crash or produce costly errors over 27 times in the last year-and-a-half. Their management is ready to pull its hair out. Can you say interdependency? Read on here is the link.

This is the link

If for some reason the link has a problem it is

As Grey Bear would say to George Johnson!

-Got Proof


-- Tman (, February 20, 1999.

Once you get to Westergaards page paste the URl (www.---)into the location and it will go to Digital States & Associtions. The article is called No Problem - Or Is It? by Victor Porlier. Tman... -Got Problems

-- Tman (, February 20, 1999.

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