Public Awareness, an Opinion : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

Last week or so, I posted a thread about some Y2K conversations at my insurance agency and a local feed store. I subsequently took a rather sound beating for suggesting that the general public is becoming more concerned. Let me try again, from a different vantage point.

In contrast to a year ago, I am finding many more people concerned about Y2K. Just concerned, that's all; enough to talk about it to someone other than close friends or family. We're seeing more news articles, which are more nearly to the point of actually saying there might indeed be problems other than malfunctioning toasters and elevators.

The point I touched on in my other thread is one I want to make more clearly now. That the logical progression I see for public conception of Y2K is - awareness, followed by concern, followed by fear, followed by panic. Now, whether this concern/fear is reality-based or not, is a discussion for other threads. I believe it is inevitable, but for a massive information campaign. In other words, the only thing that can prevent fear and ultimately, panic, is information. It is human nature to fear the unknown (with a few exceptions), and when that fear is compressed by a shortness of time, it can be ignited into panic by nothing more than ignorance. (Please note that ignorance is not equated with stupidity; it is simply a lack of knowledge of the subject.)

So, therefore, the increasing concerns of the populace within the next few months will create a void and a demand for information on the "Y2K computer problem". It appears that this void will be filled by one of two basic types of information. It may be disseminated along grassroots, or made massively public, by either the media itself, or with government support:

1. Information which would be shallow on factual findings, and primarily designed for digestion by the lowest common denominator. In short, it would employ smoke and mirrors, and half-truths, with intent, not to substantially inform, but rather to simply relieve the demand. It would be characterized by the idea of "foolish public", and rationalized by the need to prevent general panic, and the ensuing chaos. It's primary function would be to protect ourselves, not from Y2K failures, but simply from ourselves. Or,

2. Information which would be essentially honest; based upon both known facts and presupposed possibilities. The primary goal of such information would be to put as much understandable and usable information to the public as possible. It would avoid both doom-and-gloom certainties, as well as blatantly hopeful predictions, without sufficient data. It would assume both the intelligence and resourcefulness of the general public. (It would recognize that we are members of free societies because we have made them so.) It would be characterized by the idea that we are a productive and law-abiding society, and rationalized by the fact that, given knowledge and sufficient impetus, we might mitigate the effects of failures on every level of our communities.

Now, in the next four months, there will be a demand for information. It may be proclaimed publicly in urban newspapers, or it may be whispered in fear in suburban bedrooms. But it appears that the government has started down the path of least resistance once again, either by design or by simple incompetence. It is my opinion that by fostering an information program more closely resembling #1, the government (and media) is encouraging, nay, precipitating the very scenario of panic and chaos that many agree is the initial and most widely devastating of possible Y2K effects.

Put into this context, and within the time frame of four months, it is still my contention that the public is becoming aware, and that very unapprised awareness is the basis of my gravest nightmares concerning Y2K.

-- Lon Frank (, August 24, 1999


I agree with you Ron. A year ago if you mentioned Y2K all you heard was "Huh, whats that?". Now practically everyone has heard of it. Several of the churches here in north Alabama have had sermons on it. There seems to be a fair amount of concern but not enough for widespread preparation. I think we are on a curve that is exponentially rising. Within the next 30 to 60 days the slope of the curve is going to go straight up and the panic will begin.

-- y2kdon (, August 24, 1999.


I reject conspiracy theories, but that doesn't mean I believe the gov't isn't lying it's shiney-hiney off. The powers that be think that by controlling awareness, they can control panic, a totally misguided, but unfortunately all too common notion.

I used to work for a private non-profit organization - one of those service agencies that exists in the half-world between private industry and civil service. It was a real eye-opener. I got to see all the classic mistakes made by corporations and by the gov't, all in one job. I saw this sort of thing all the time. A big change was about to happen, that will greatly affect our clients, and the clients are the last to know.

I used to hear "ducks in a row" arguments, all the time. "Let's make sure all our 'ducks are in a row', before we let this information out." Unfortunately, the ducks always got lined up long after it was too late for those that we served, to have any input into what the new plan was, and were stuck with what we gave them.

For every one time this worked out to be a prudent policy, I saw ten times where the withholding of info just made the problem worse. Why people in administrative positions continue to believe that withholding info is always the safest default strategy, I'll never know.

I think this is a situation where the withhold info strategy is really going to back fire on them. Even a particularly bad BITR is going to incite a lot of anger (not to mention a lot of panic). If there is an election, next year, I think we all had better get used to saying "President Bush", again.

-- Bokonon (, August 24, 1999.

"...the only thing that can prevent fear and ultimately, panic, is information"

There are two basic levels of information - how serious is the situation, and what can be done about it. If the situation is determined to be serious, then panic will not be overcome until there has been preparation as well.

Those of us who were fortunate enough to GI some time ago, were able to work through the panic while things were still functioning and alternatives were still available. If time only allows people to accept the potential seriousness of the situation, then there may be nothing to alleviate the resulting panic.

"Panic Now - Avoid the Rush!"

-- Brooks (, August 24, 1999.


Along the lines of your comments, I worked for a government agency for a while. In the biginning, it was good. We were all young idealists, and the concept was new (environmental protection). We actually believed we could accomplish something, and did, on accasion.

But in the 90's we began to change. We had to get politically correct. Rather that good people we begin to hire good looking people . We got problem managers rather than problem solvers. We became letter-writers, and permit reviewers. We were not paid to solve problems. It became a staid principle that you could only get in trouble for doing something wrong - so if you did NOTHING, you could do nothing wrong.

I, likewise reject most conspiracy theories. The only government conspiracy I ever came to witness was one of pervading, all consumptive, incompetence. The only path acceptable was the path of least resistance. Needless to say, I don't have much in the government's ability or willingness to rise to this occasion.

-- Lon Frank (, August 24, 1999.


Maybe you're right. Maybe I over-simplified. Perhaps the fact that those of us who began to get information two years ago, didn't panic any worse thatn we did, is a function of time-frame, rather than information quantity and quality.

Perhaps the knowledge that we are/might be technologically terminally ill will be as bad or worse than the ignorance.

Unfortunately, I think it's a moot point, because Koskinen seems to have antied-up and tossed the dice for us all.

-- Lon Frank (, August 24, 1999.

Lon, I'm certain this was a conscious decision by the administration and all its advisors, not a one-man decision whatsoever. This is a continuance of a general policy on the part of the federal government to not stir up panic in the face of whatever the crisis was/is.

For instance, this morning I was reading about the escape of the ebola-infected monkeys from a government lab in Reston, Virginis, the basis for the book THE HOT ZONE. Next door to the lab was a school full of little children and the scientists, apparently, were particularly pained to listen to their happy laughter and know that these little people were at risk.

However, those in charge could not inform the school authorities and precipitate a panic--despite the fact that the children might die within days.

That decision appears consistent with the decision made regarding Y2K. Maybe that is the type of policy a government has to follow. I don't really know. I only know that is the police deliberately being followed. Whatever else, don't doubt that this is a choice that the government has made.

-- Mara Wayne (, August 24, 1999.

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