the Great Disconnectgreenspun.com : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread
The Great Disconnect or 2+2= whAT??
By Art Welling 4-13-1999
One of the constant companions of Y2K reporting is the great disconnect. A disconnect is when someone says B follows A, therefor D is obvious. The disconnect is the implied assumption.
The proper response at this point is: "Whoa! What happened to C?"
The first and most powerful disconnect involved with Y2K is the assumption that unprepared systems will explode in flames, shut down power, and wipe out everyone's bank accounts. (BZZZT: That was exaggeration)
Another disconnect is the assumption that remediated systems are fixed and the company/agency/government/system is just fine from that point on.
Yet another disconnect is the idea that how people are preparing is in any way a sign of our futures root causes. The simple truth is a generator shortage has nothing at all to do with whether our not power will continue uninterrupted. 'Preparation' and 'survivalist' stories are fun and interesting but actually have nothing to do with the severity (or lack thereof) of the problems Y2k may bring us. People prepare for trouble based on what they believe might or will happen. The important phrase is 'what they believe'. It's important to separate what people believe from what caused that belief in the first place.
It's the power of these disconnects that seem to cloud the issue so much.
If we examine the area of the disconnect, we find it's inhabited by a beast named 'nobody knows, but we guess:'. That's the fill in when an article reports the NERC drill went well and then implies power generation is going to breeze through Y2K. But.... wait.... I thought the NERC drill was just about communications and had nothing to do with year 2000 dates at all? DISCONNECT. While communications are vitally important, working communications do not in any way guarantee power production and delivery.
The beast surfaces again when a company says they are on track to be Y2K compliant in 3 months, having started a year ago, yet have only spent 19% of their allotted budget. DISCONNECT. Unless they are going to start burning piles of cash as offerings, how will they spend 80% of the budget in 25% of their allotted repair time without allowing a huge chunk of time for testing all those late repairs?
I hear a snuffling sound when I read a forum note describing how agency X is going down the tubes because they haven't surveyed half their systems. DISCONNECT. Where is it written that a system must explode in flames or freeze solid if it's untested for Y2K problems? They may die, they may give false data, they may give incorrect dates on reports, or they may sail through just fine.
The great disconnect is a fallacy employed by both doomer and polyanna alike. Whether wittingly or not it appears in most articles and stories related to Y2K. The danger is in the assumptions and their results. For doomers the assumption that A+B= failure D can create a framework for drastic reactions. Quitting a job, moving into the sticks unprepared, cashing in pensions, etc. Not that these might not be the best answers and most reasonable, but it's poor planning to base major life choices on assumptions derived from disconnects. On the other hand Pollyannas might read A+B= alliswell D and make no meaningful preparations at all. Without 'C' in the story to follow B and precede D there is a disconnect just begging to be filled.
In a previous essay I discussed the question: "Are you prepared to be wrong?" in which I encouraged people to look at the flip side of their beliefs about Y2K. In this piece I wish to encourage people to apply logic to the information they view concerning Y2K.
The disconnect in a story is the place where we insert our own beliefs and thoughts. It's where the spin is applied. There is a place in our lives for emotion, feelings, passion, and all the other spices that make life so worth living. In contrast there are times when emotion has little role to play. Y2K is a technical issue with human consequences. There is a personal danger in making judgments based solely on the human side without a grasp of the technical issues involved. Stories and reports that contain large disconnects serve only to play up the emotional side of the issue. Falling into the great disconnect trap is something to be guarded against.
Watch out for the Great disconnect. When you come across one in a story that might otherwise be serious and helpful, Stop. Look at it carefully and ask yourself what the options are. Try to recognize the options which are clouded by your own beliefs, and while not dismissing them, recognize them for what they are. If the story or report means that much to you invest in the research to fill in 'C' for yourself.
Sometimes the great disconnect is represented by just one word or phrase and that makes it harder to recognize for what it is. A classic and profound example of this is the description 'mission critical'. This nebulous phrase sounds so solid and down to earth till you start questioning it. What is 'mission critical'? Apparently nobody really knows because the number of mission critical systems keeps changing at an alarming rate. The Federal Government managed to lose about 25% of their 'mission critical' systems in just a few months. Now they are something else, not 'critical' anymore I guess. It's called redefining the problem and it can be dangerous sometimes when you don't know it happened.
Beware the beast 'GREAT DISCONNECT'. It's a sneaky and treacherous creature that will slither into your thoughts and plans without warning. It's wise to constantly question your conclusions and those of others. That's how you flush out the beast into the light. Examination under the cold hard light of logic is the only defense against The Great Disconnect.
-- Art Welling (email@example.com), April 13, 1999
Thanks, Art. This is an incredibly well-done and timely piece. Critical thinking skills and basic logic (as opposed to the leap of logic you refer to as The Great Disconnect)are vital as the clock ticks closer to the event. I agree that it is often "The Great Disconnect" that polarizes a lot of good discussions on this forum, and neither end of the spectrum has been immune.
-- Wanda (firstname.lastname@example.org), April 13, 1999.
I agree that assumptions should be identified.
For example, Gary North has stressed the need for extensive testing by an independent third party before a system can reliably be classified as "compliant".
I accept that, but it does not follow that the system which has not been tested by the third party is not, in fact, compliant.
I am optimistic because I expect that many computer systems will be found to be working properly in January, even though they were not properly certified to be compliant.
(To remove any doubt of where I stand: I consider it prudent to prepare for a situation where the computers are not compliant. But I expect more to actually be compliant than the doomers do.)
Let me suggest (as I have somewhat touched on before) that most on this forum have an assumption regarding how the American people will respond to an extended universal power failure.
Much of the talk of preparation here and on North's boards concerns preparation against criminal activity.
I believe that this fear is well founded, but is independent of an analysis of computers, and does not follow logically from the computer problem.
-- GA Russell (email@example.com), April 13, 1999.
This is an accurate description of the present state of affairs as regards Y2K. The missing factor, "C", remains missing. The disconnect remains irremediably in force.
We're all dealing with that lack of knowledge on the basis of individual attitudes and beliefs, which predated any knowledge of the Y2K situation. It's not surprising that such a wide spectrum of opinion exists.
I don't see any remedy, either. No single individual can possibly become intimately familiar with all relevant aspects of all the interconnected systems in the world. No one can even come close. In this we're all blind men (used generically!) We're circling a very large animal (perhaps not an elephant, perhaps not even a known species). An animal which is not standing still as we grope.
Perhaps the only certainty is that the one who cries "I know!" can only be partially correct at best.
-- Tom Carey (firstname.lastname@example.org), April 13, 1999.
Eighteen months ago I had three questions about the possible effects of Y2K:
1) What will happen?
2) How bad will it be?
3) How long will it last?
After more than a year of serious research and analysis (and I've made a living doing R&A since 1975) I have the following answers:
1) I don't know.
2) I don't know.
3) I don't know.
I am hoping, praying, wishing there will be no serious problems related to Y2K. If there are no problems, the pair of brass Aladdin lamps and the woodstove will be rustic decor items. The exra groceries will mean much less shopping for a while. The generator will serve well in power outages and for running power tools in remote areas (already been handy for that). AND I get to go to a great party at Uncle Deedah's (party's still on, right, Unk? You there, Unk??).
If there ARE problems, these few things will make life much more amenable.
Disconnected? Not hardly. Confused? You betcha. Ready for whatever comes? As much as I can be.
How about you??
-- (email@example.com), April 13, 1999.
Art -- great piece and I think I'm smart enough to understand your points, though I'm hopelessly out of step with most folks on the forum I guess (sincerely), since I continue to view Y2K as absurdly simple: too little work too late, therefore prepare.
I think our forum, for which and to which I remain very grateful for all the help, over-complicates matters, frankly, most of the time.
Not unlike the rest of our over-intellectualized, calculative (I have a right to say that) techno-culture. Missing the forest for the trees .....
Sure, I know there are some (two hundred million U.S.?) who think "too little too late, therefore prepare" is some sort of remarkably nutty analysis of Y2K that needs hundreds of special arguments to defend. Sorry, they're wrong. I see every reason to question much about Y2K (as you have well pointed out) but only a fool would question THAT conclusion, IMO. (I know that's very politically incorrect).
How much preparation? You'll note I didn't say. Mileage varies.
So, when you conclude by saying, "Examination under the cold hard light of logic is the only defense against The Great Disconnect," I'm not sure what to do with that. Where is my Great Disconnect?
-- BigDog (BigDog@duffer.com), April 13, 1999.
I think there is a great disconnect in at least three areas the "pollys" fail to consider: (1) The economic impact of the cost of y2k on future goods and services, regardless of successful mitigation; (2) the impact of the unavailability ( for whatever period) of imported goods, because of international and shipping non-compliance, regardless of how compliant the US is (the Coast Guard has already stated that noncompliant ships will not be given port in the United States); and (3) the potential cost to replace off-shore facilities with a new domestic infrastructure for the processing of native raw materials and maufacturing of products, should y2k have a prolonged impact on the manufacture and importation of foreign products.
Preparations now to help mitigate the potential economic impact to my family's welfare of these future "more certain" events would be prudent, regardless of whether the power will go off, the telephones work or the Fortune 500 mainframes have every line of Cobol fixed in early 2000, USA. How can the "pollys" deny that there will be problems that will impact them? Are they unaware of how "global" our economy is?
The great disconnect is that the debate over potential personal impact is being argued on the basis of US business and utilities readiness, ignoring our economic dependence on the rest of the world.
-- marsh (firstname.lastname@example.org), April 14, 1999.