10 Years After Y2K

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I received this by email today and thought that many on this list would appreciate the sentiments reflected here.....

An extraordinary piece by my friend, Michael Brownlee (who compiled Just in Case). Long, and well worth reading and sharing, and keeping to read again.

Jan Nickerson Y2K Connections Building Community Not Crises ~ the ONLY Y2K game in town www.Y2KConnections.com

Notes from the Future

TEN YEARS AFTER Y2K A presentation by Bradford Fox

October 24, 2009 Santa Fe, New Mexico

The Discontinuity

Today, we have come together to see what we have learned from the first truly global crisis, a most stunning beginning to the 21st century. For a long time to come, historians will be writing about this unprecedented meta-event, analyzing what happened, attempting to extract lessons for the future.

The Year 2000 Computer Crisis - affectionately remembered as "Y2K" - was without doubt the most important and most disturbing event in modern history. Actually, it was not an event at all, but a confluence of circumstances, patterns and forces which converged into a Discontinuity - a veritable tear in the fabric of reality.

When most of us first heard about Y2K, it seemed unbelievably stupid that a computer programming shortcut, reducing dates to six-digit numbers, could have any impact on us at all. I certainly felt the same way. In a very short time, however, as the reality and the enormity of the situation began to sink in, it seemed unbelievably scary. It was indeed a crisis of vast proportions. In the two years before the millennium turned, it was often said that there were two kinds of people: those who believed the Millennium Bug was at most a trivial problem, and those who were actually working on it - and were terrified.

Later, as we entered into the Discontinuity itself, for many of us the whole thing seemed unbelievably awesome, beyond our ability to imagine or comprehend.

As often seems to happen in matters that border on the prophetic, almost no one had predicted remotely accurately what would happen in the Y2K situation. Now we know that no one could have. It was a little like a massive earthquake that took place everywhere at once. The aftershock, especially to those who had wanted to ignore or deny the problem, was enormous.


In the early stages of the crisis, Y2K revealed our very human tendency to deny and hide from issues that seem too complex to understand. We had already experienced this to some extent with other complex and troublesome issues: the Vietnam war, the ecological deterioration of our environment, global warming, AIDS and other intractable new diseases, and of course the shattering impact and implications of quantum physics.

But in the closing years of the 20th century, nothing made our tendency for resistance and denial stand out in such sharp relief as the Y2K crisis.

You might not remember this - I didn't - but my grandchildren recently happened on a story in the old Internet I archives, about a September 1998 poll which had revealed that even at that late date an astonishing 70 percent of Americans were not aware of the Millennium Bug or what might happen as a result. Of those few who knew about it, 93 percent faithfully believed that it would be solved before January 1, 2000. That faith not only proved to be wildly unjustified, but in some areas also greatly exacerbated the situation.

The End of the Industrial Age

While Y2K wasn't exactly the end of the world - which some had feared, and others had hoped - it was the end of much that we had become accustomed to and comfortable with.

For many of us, Y2K shattered our collective faith in government, in our social institutions, in our security, in our sense of continuity, our sense of reality, our very way of life. It revealed that much of what we assumed to be the very underpinnings of Life As We know It were in fact highly dysfunctional systems that had been plunging headlong toward collapse for many years, while we were obliviously pursuing the rewards of "success." To paraphrase Kay Gilley, one of the insightful writers of that time, while most of us were "busy stuffing ourselves on the junk food of life," our lifeless existence was starving for meaning.

The Millennium Bug was a symptom, not a cause. It reflected the end of the Industrial Age, which was characterized by an unshakable faith in technology and commerce. We now understand very well that technological shortsightedness, plus systemic suppression of feedback, can have far-reaching and unforeseeable consequences in both the world's ecosystem and in human relationships.

In a way, the Millennium Bug was a product of poor communication. It came about as a result of a disconnect between cultures who thought they need not understand each other - the technicians/ programmers, and the managers/executives. There's a lesson here: communication disconnect leads to systemic breakdown.

During the Industrial Era, the systems that we created had become increasingly artificial and rigid, and thus increasingly brittle. This included our large-scale social and economic systems, our government and legal systems, our community systems, our family systems, all the way down to our personal systems. All levels of our "infrastructure" were already stressed nearly to the breaking point. Such brittle systems have no ability to cope with the shock of chaos or sweeping change and then bounce back, so they have a tendency to suddenly collapse in extreme situations.

Some had perhaps naively seen the advent of a computer-networked digital world as an analog for our underlying oneness, even the advent of global consciousness. Well, Y2K did give us a strangely ironic and painful lesson in interconnectedness, getting our collective attention in a way that almost nothing else could have. In fact, it could be said that Y2K illuminated our fundamental disconnectedness from nature, from each other, from loftier values. Y2K was a good example of what one observer called the Revenge Effect - "the process by which an indifferent nature seems to get even with us lowly humans by twisting our cleverness back against us."

Y2K demonstrated that no system functions by itself, that all systems are inherently interconnected. To fail to acknowledge this interconnectedness can bring collapse and even death to a system.

But while we did see plenty of collapse and system-death during Y2K, we also saw something else - the extraordinary resilience and creativity of the human spirit.

The End of Certainty

One of the important lessons was that we needed to learn to let go of our attachment to certainty and familiarity. In their place we had to develop a new capacity for dealing with what is intrinsically unknowable. We came to see that in times of profound systemic change, "the facts" are completely unreliable, and our imaginations are often rather puny in comparison to the reality that is emerging.

Y2K was a powerful reminder that there is no certainty in life - not even in death or taxes. For instance, the demise of the IRS - an ailing institution we all took as a kind of necessary evil ? caught most of us off guard. In hindsight, we should have seen this was inevitable.

We learned that survival was not the critical issue. We saw many people attempting to organize stop gap actions in order to survive the Y2K hurricane, thinking that once it passed they would then return to their old jobs and their old ways. What we discovered instead was that the old ways were in fact passing away, that we were in fact in the initial phase of our creating a new world for ourselves.

So Y2K was not about preparedness, as many had thought, or honing our survival skills. Instead it was about developing resilience - the ability to adapt to change. It caused us to begin to think about survival in a different way. Like many of those whose lives were already in transition at that time, we began asking exactly what it was that we wanted to survive, and what needed to be let go.

More than fifty years ago, Dr. Jonas Salk, the creator of the polio vaccine, said, "I now see that the major shift in human evolution is from behaving like an animal struggling to survive, to behaving like an animal choosing to evolve. In fact, in order to survive, man has to evolve. And to evolve, we need a new kind of thinking, a new kind of behavior."

In Y2K, we discovered that new thinking, new behaviors, new kinds of seeing and visioning were necessary. We needed ways of aligning - almost intuitively - with what is unfolding, opening to new possibilities that had been beyond the range of our ordinary imagination and perceptions. Fortunately, there were those who came forward to model this way of seeing and being for us.

The End of Authority

Y2K was also the death-knell for power by authority. For me, one of the caricatures of this is the appalling image of John Koskenin, given the title of the President's Y2K "Czar" - of all things - on ABC's Nightline in October 1998, possibly the first important mass media coverage of the Y2K story. Koskenin was seen saying, over and over again, with a wry smile, that he was "confident" that Y2K was not going to disrupt our lives, that he was even going to fly on a commercial airline on January 1, 2000. Of course, his posturing seems comical now, but I can assure you it didn't then. It was spooky. But what we were witnessing was the utter impotence of those in positions of authority.

The unfolding events of Y2K showed that many of those who were in such positions of centralized authority and power - and I had once been among them - were simply unable to adapt to the massive changes they suddenly had to face, and they were unable to provide true leadership. It's easy to see now that there were almost no visible public leaders anywhere in the world by the end of the 20th century. This was not so obvious in the time leading up to Y2K, because the so-called leaders still clung to the illusion of power and authority, and the public for the most part had been willing to go along with the game - especially since things seemed to be going relatively well.

The extreme reluctance of those in positions of power and authority to swiftly make publicly available crucial information about the impending Y2K crisis - a move which could have reduced much of the negative socioeconomic impact - was but another symptom of the end of their reign. Public perception ultimately shifted, and these power brokers were seen as pathetically anachronistic.

Even President Clinton's declaration of a state of emergency came so late in the crisis that he was perceived as impossibly slow to respond, an embarrassing Johnny-come-lately. And the desperate attempt by some governments to quell chaos by imposing martial law was quickly and almost universally recognized as only exacerbating the chaos. I trust we've learned that lesson well enough, that the imposition of controls can itself result in chaos. This was an especially painful lesson for many of our cherished institutions.

In the Industrial Era, leadership had often meant having all the answers, being in control of everything. Eventually, we had to learn that control is not something you can have over a complex system or over people. We had to give up the illusion of control and concentrate instead on setting a larger vision for our world, so that the creativity of our people can emerge. This is the way to a culture of care, as opposed to a culture of command and control. This is true whether we're talking about business, government or social systems.

Leadership did finally bloom in the Y2K crisis, of course, and it came from a host of unexpected quarters. Real leadership emerged organically, from the bottom up, much to the dismay of those who were trying to hold the old systems together. It was uncontrollable, flexible, responsive - vastly different from the models of power and authority that had previously held sway. The new leaders convincingly demonstrated that true leadership does not mean accumulating and wielding power. Instead, it means empowering others to be truly creative.

Fortunately, the new leadership also recognized that human resourcefulness is not limited by age, socioeconomic status or education. They showed us that in times of crisis and chaos, even children and the elderly can be extremely important and creative contributors. This probably should not have been a surprise to us, but it was.

The other side of the Y2K leadership coin was that we saw that we all have to be leaders, not just in times of crisis and chaos, but always, vigilantly. We cannot assume that "they" are taking care of what needs taking care of. We are all responsible for all of it. The new leadership was aware that people and relationships between people are far more important than "systems" or "organizations."

Why Didn't We See What Was Coming?

Part of the problem with Y2K was that while we were so busy trying to make sense out of the incomplete and conflicting information that we had available to us, from all over the world, we missed seeing some of the "wild card" factors that would ultimately escalate the situation to completely unimagined levels.

There were, of course, early heroes in this situation - people like Margaret Wheatley, who had launched a heads-up flare that alerted many of us to the potential for cascading interconnected global system breakdown, a heretofore unheard-of possibility. However, only a few truly visionary leaders were able to incorporate that breathtaking perspective into their scenario planning. We could have benefited from more of the perspective of chaos and complexity theorists, but few of them were speaking in a language that was accessible to us. They were, after all, theorists - not activists or organizers - so we didn't know how to actually apply what they were saying.

But we understand now that there were several other massive change-generators brewing in the months before the millennium rollover that were equally unthinkably complex and incomprehensible, and therefore largely unconsidered.

The Asian economic hurricane. The mounting number of natural disasters occurring in the world. Signs of dramatic global warming, as evidenced in the breakup of the Antarctic ice shelf. Increased volcanic activity. Tectonic plate shifts, increasing the potential for major earthquakes. And, of course, the breakdown of long-established social and family patterns. The world had changed deeply since World War II, but we were so busy living on the thin veneer of life-as-we-know-it - composed largely of images and addictions - that we were scarcely aware of what was going on underneath.

On the other end of the spectrum - among the so-called Aquarian or new age movement - was the growing but still dim awareness of the fact that we humans did not come into this world, we grew out from it - and that we are all related to each other and to all other species. This radical emergence certainly didn't make headline news, but it was beginning to dawn for millions of people all over the world. Almost no one foresaw the role this fundamental shift in consciousness would play in the Y2K scenario. To this day we're still having some difficulty integrating this on an experiential level. My grasp of it is still largely intellectual, but I am beginning to actually feel it now and then.

More obviously, but also largely unnoticed, there were during the final years of the millennium a significant number of humans who were exhibiting signs of evolutionary divergence from what we were accustomed to. Extraordinary and apparently multidimensional abilities were already beginning to show up on the planet that had previously only been the stuff of legends. But who could have connected up the dots to discern what this all might mean during the Y2K event convergence?

I'm not going to go into the particulars of all these unforeseen events today. Some of you here are far more familiar with the details and implications of some of these sweeping changes than I am. I admit to still learning to come to grips with them.

A Psychospiritual Pole-Shift

But I can say that one of the lessons we have probably learned from the confluence of events that we now euphemistically call Y2K is that our collective view of reality - our dominant paradigm, if you will - had been extremely limited and narrow. In fact, it was doomed. In the rapidly unfolding Y2K Discontinuity, our understanding of reality, which had seemed so comfortable and so right, was simply swept away - leaving millions of people gasping and reeling, unable to comprehend what had occurred. We might just as well have had an actual physical pole-shift. The psychospiritual impact was that great.

In the end, even those who had been most devoted to understanding "the facts" about the Millennium Bug and attempting to grasp what might happen as a result of it - many of those very people were the ones who missed the bigger picture and were taken completely by surprise. How ironic. I can sympathize with them, believe me.

In the face of all that I've pointed to, it sounds incredibly glib to say now that in preparing for the future we need to be able to look differently, from a broader perspective, taking into account the unthinkable, the unreasonable - even the fantastic. This means that we need to pay careful attention to people and events that could be the early indicators of an emerging reality far beyond what we could deduce from rational analysis. We must even consider the dreams and visions that are occurring in the body of humanity.

A Carrier Wave for Change

Perhaps the biggest challenge in the unfolding Y2K crisis was not in fixing billions of lines of computer code, or dealing with infrastructure collapse, or managing emergency food distribution, but in how people reacted to the situation - how we treated each other, how much we helped each other through this. Some of us had worried about this well in advance, knowing that the kinds of responses with which we met this challenge would determine whether we would be able to bring together and build our local communities, or whether things would degenerate into the rule of the mob.

In this, we learned that the inherent goodness of human nature had not entirely disappeared with the good old days, but had merely gone underground. Y2K precipitated an extraordinary outpouring of active human compassion perhaps unprecedented in human history. And we got to see that the emerging human organism is far more resilient than we ever suspected, and far more creative.

Crisis, we know, tends to polarize and catalyze. It is fertile soil for human ingenuity, creativity and compassion. The global crisis of Y2K forced us to recognize our oneness, to bridge our polarities, and to set aside our dysfunctional past. It re-ordered our priorities as nothing else could have.

We saw the spontaneous emergence of a grassroots movement for community preparation, people rising up to meet the challenge of Y2K. Unexpectedly, this movement became a carrier wave for change in a direction that for decades many people had been longing for.

Many of us learned, to our great surprise, that the best security one can have is a prepared neighbor. This brought a new perspective to the ancient admonition: Love they neighbor as thyself. Thy neighbor, we learned, is thyself. Whither thou goest, there goest I. We found that we truly are all in the same boat.

The Lessons of Chaos and Complexity

Perhaps our greatest learning from Y2K has been relating complexity and chaos theory - which we've inherited from mathematicians - to the emerging organism we call the human species. In a way, Y2K was our first collective introduction to this new understanding. Chaos and complexity are indeed powerful teachers and taskmasters.

The vast complexity of the Y2K situation was something we had never faced before. I remember one of the theorists who said, "I have yet to see any problem, however complex, which, when you looked at it the right way, did not become still more complex." Well, Y2K was certainly an astonishing example of that, wasn't it?

Chaos, we learned, is not the same thing as randomness. Chaos is a natural stage in an organic, evolutionary process. This is not the normal, incremental, Darwinian kind of evolution we used to think of, but a relatively sudden quantum leap into the unknown.

In a time of chaos, all bets are off. In the latter years of the 20th century, we used to speak of a coming paradigm shift - which is actually a much slower process. But chaos is swift and sweeping, like a tidal wave, triggered by seemingly random, remote and unrelated events. So it was with Y2K, a stark example of the fabled Butterfly Effect. Who could have imagined that a shortsighted technological shortcut could have precipitated an evolutionary quantum leap?

Now we know that out of chaos emerges an unforeseen self-organized order, nothing less than a new future. In chaos, systemic breakdown is natural, and gives way to unexpected breakthroughs.

We've seen how in the midst of chaos and breakdown, many people revert to their old fight-or-flight defaults, and how those who stay in those modes actually become a threat to what is trying to emerge - and to themselves. Fear-based reactions and projections pose the greatest threat to creative solutions, and to human survival. The so-called "Y2K survivalists" didn't understand this, and ironically found themselves poorly prepared for what was coming. They couldn't comprehend that internal preparation for chaos - spiritual, psychological, emotional - is far more important than physical preparation, especially when external circumstances are radically unpredictable. The ancient urge to isolate and defend just doesn't work in times of chaos (if it ever did).

What creates order and coherence out of chaos is nothing less than meaning. Meaning is the "strange attractor," the self-organizing principle around which the future coalesces. And meaning is comprised of our guiding visions, our deepest intuitions, our highest values, and our most sacred intentions. These are the elements that give us the sustainable clarity of purpose and direction that will gently self organize the future we all desire in our heart of hearts. These are what comprise our underlying design.

The integrity or coherence of an organic system - be it a person or a world - is dependent on that organism's ability to live consistent with itself, consistent with its underlying design and purpose. Our long-term viability as a human species depends on our ability to consistently make decisions and take actions of such integrity and coherence.

For me, perhaps the key lesson of Y2K is that in times of profound change, it is important to be willing to let go of life as we have known it. In the 21st century, a time in which we face continuous waves of change, this is the only decent way to live. Or as Maharishi Mahesh Yogi once said, "You can't stop the waves, but you can learn to surf."

Finally, I'd like to share with you a little poem that I received by e-mail in late 1998, which I have carried with me ever since. I was never able to find its author, to ask his permission to share it. But, Joe Zarantonello, wherever you are, I trust that you'll approve of this. It's called The Dance.

There is nothing wrong with you. I repeat, there is nothing wrong with you. The chaos in your life is absolutely normal, is just constant change, is just the way things are. And the moment you begin to recognize that this chaos is the very voice of God, and that you are meant to be in it totally, but not of it - only then, have you finally begun to glimpse the Great Mystery, only then, have you finally begun to join in the General Dance.

Things will never settle down. Thank God. Things will never settle down.

Thanks, Joe. Those words have meant a lot to me over these years of change.

Michael Brownlee michael@visibiliti.com

-- Lisa Zach (lisa@texasnetworks.com), December 20, 1999


The Fat Lady has yet to sing. And in my view, idealists like this guy will be as confused and surprised as the rest.

There is no'quantam leap' or 'new paradigm'. There is human nature, as it has been for untold thousands of years and as it will be for thousands more. As it has been, so will it be.

If you want to see how humanity will react to y2k or any other crisis, there are plenty of books on history.

Or, as the rock song says, "Here come the new boss.... same as the old boss."

-- Forrest Covington (theforrest@mindspring.com), December 20, 1999.

Science fiction posts like this one should be deleted from the website. What we need are facts, data and anecdotes from or about people working on Y2K projects (Y2K insiders). Everything else is speculation and conclusions with no supporting data. Perhaps there are other forums for Y2K science fiction.

-- Richard Greene (Rgreene2@ford.com), December 20, 1999.

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