Y2K Thoughts from Doug Carmichael

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Y2K Week Mailing List See end of message for Help and unsubscribe information Year 2000 week 2 and 3 Jan 21, 2000 Shakespeare and Tao Consulting http://tmn.com/shakespeareandtao Douglass Carmichael and Mark Frautschi

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REFLECTIONS ON THE WEEK (doug) Was the y2k response rational?

What Ilike about writing is people tell you when you are wrong. The strength of responses to last weeks letter were so strong on polar opposites, it only makes me think there is more to do. Admit that you were wrong, said some. Thanks said others. Since I have stressed that we did not know, its hard to see how I could be wrong. I am surprised by those from many points of view that still need to say, looking back before Jan 1, I knew .. such and such. I think this plays lose with what we mean by knowledge. Knowledge requires a careful assessment of fact into a coherent argument. It can involve some judicious even wild speculation, but to be knowledge it needs to get pinned down to observable or eperienceable moments..

What we miss, in coming to conclusions, is that in between world, where we do not know, but know enough to know there is a risk, and risk requires prudence, and prudence has two parts; reduce risk, and be more resilient. There also is the issue of what this event actually was, and what we can learn from it about a larger class of events of which Y2K is merely an example.

My own deeper intuition is that the rush to judge the Y2K situation so quickly is part of the very problem we have been dealing with: rapid closure driven by a complex anxiety that mixes fear and anger in complex ways, very dependent on the social matrix of which they are a part.

A prediction is not the same as knowledge, and I still claim that anyone who felt they knew, in any direction, was basing it on very limited observation plus conventional wisdom plus some unspoken assumptions.

The emerging wisdom is that for y2k to have been so under control, or so weak, or where the remediation was so successful, was an amazing confluence of trends and events, and its basic structure is still not well understood, nor the very facts so certain (except at the level of total system freedom from rapid interconnected failures). All to say, it remains a very interesting situation, technically, socially, and governmentally.


The quality of writing from many sources in the last weeks indicates that we have developed a new group capable of stronger thinking about the interaction between technology and society. We need to consider that the reason Y2K has been so small are at least four

1. People did lots of responsible work 2. Systems were less vulnerable and more robust than we thought 3. Systems were vulnerable, but the vulnerabilities were limited, and easy to catch in time, especially as the nature of the problem got clearer and MIS people targeted work based on discerningly reading the signs. 4. There is still massive caution, and problems that emerge are being worked quietly.

I still remain puzzled by the absence of failures from places that did little or no work. If these four factors are part of the explanation, it seems to me no one predicted that all coming together.

The most common view is that people did act responsibly, that MIS managers were strategic, and the resources were made available. This view suggests a deep level of rationality. But what caused that apparent rationality? What would have happened if we had not had the Internet? In the early days of y2k (in my case 1997), denial was quick from managers. Yet at the same time I sat in on meetings with senior MIS manages from major corporations, including some major computer companies, and they were scared. Integrating the two cultures together of those who knew and those who needed to know in order to mobilize resources was not easy. Public concern and Internet connectivity helped. In fact it seemed to me that many companies the communication did not vastly improve and that lower-level staff and senior management were still not level with each other. But it might be that Y2K forced the best communication than most organizations had ever seen.

My main concern during that time was that the connection was not getting made and the formula, Its not a technical problem, its a management problem, would dangerously distract people might downplay the importance of technical side. Technical people seemed treated badly, as management practice goes. Most places I saw directly made Y2K assignments seem more like punishment than worthy drama. I was told in several places Oh, we appointed Joe to do it, so we could get rid of him. Women took the roles in a larger than representative percentage, because the men did not want the job, but the women have benefited tremendously from the systems wide exposure. This alone suggests to me that the men misjudged the situation. But it is not yet at all clear what will now happened to those who led the Y2K efforts inside organizations.

There emerged an argument I did not take seriously enough: that because it was business and profit, the work would get done.

The implications of all this might be that solidarity and fear of shame worked to produce an extraordinarily rational result, one we could all be proud of.

My worry is that the social pressure was formed around economic interests, and the key fact about y2k, and why it has been so interesting to people critical of the current state of society, is that it was the first major environmental contamination that could not be eternalized: it was inside the castle walls. Therefore it was rather unique. So, was the response, the rationality of all the efforts unique? Or is this rationality a problem solving capacity that could extend to other issues?

Other problems, such as global climate change, environmental drawdowns, the entropy of increasing population, weapons traffic, remain outside the corporations and government agencies. The ability of those with good jobs to respond to an economic crisis may have been very real, but if, as is clearly currently the case, the same people are not being able to respond to societal threats, the Y2K response has to be seen as a limited definition of rationality.

So one conclusion is, if the other great threats to our species and societal survival could be experienced as internal to the system, * they would get dealt with *. This is a very hopeful conclusion. Is there any evidence?

Two trends may make a difference. One is the Internet, with its tendency to make much more porous the castle walls (see the new book Cluetrain, and its manifesto at http://www.cluetrain.com and http://www.topica.com/lists/cluetrain).

The next is that mergers and acquisitions may produce monopoly businesses that can face these issues, because they are a systemic effect that threatens their existence. When there are a number of businesses in close competition, the eternalized events, those that do not pertain to current competitive advantage, are kept eternal and ignored.

The danger here is that the felt need for technical solutions at the societal level leads to creating one central system to mange it all, and the monopoly companies move in that direction.

So I tentatively conclude that y2k shows us social solidarity of a rather profound kind, but that it is highly dependent on group cohesion around a socially agreed upon agenda which includes vital interests.

Our ability to deal with issues outside that matrix means that we have issue that are real risks with no emergent solutions. Y2k offers both hope that we can mobilize, but raises the stakes about what it takes. Its not just responsibility and action: its the social frame that is willing to embrace and help define the problem.

If John Koskinen were now to be head of the climate change effort, I for one would consider that we have made extraordinary progress.

Y2k was so interesting to many people, because it seemed like a key, finally, to dealing with what were seen as unhealthy trends that were being ignored. The fact at Y2K was dealt with primarily because of the threat to the economy, is not reassuring, because the critique is that society making decisions on economic grounds is not a smart way for long term survival.

I have mentioned in the last two newsletters that the issue seems in many ways religious. Its a religion of rational and economy and technology, vs. a religion of humanness (or the organic, or of life), with all the strengths and weaknesses of real live lives. My own view is that we are in a situation where we can say the economy is doing well but the people are doing badly: that technology is in the ascendant but that the value and understanding of humans is in the decline. Citizenship feels old fashioned compared with personal portfolio management. Democracy is confusing to us, and education is being lost as a national aspiration.

In the last century collective hopes led to socialism and worse. The probable problem with socialism is that it was way too materialistic in its orientation. The answer to too much capitalism is not the social mimicry of the industrial machine, but rather to loosen up, realize that a full life is not merely economics, but that the wise use of things to enhance life leads to a different strategy than that currently taken by most people. The trouble is, that, for example reducing living costs in order to have time and money for more interesting things gets harder in so far as the rich can co-opt the resources.

For example, in a town I know, there is a bed and breakfast buried in the edge of the forest with a view out over Puget sound and Cascades. The house was bought and turned into a private residence. Totally legitimate in the current market understanding. But the secure life of one family means that a large number of people who enhanced their lives by spending a few days a year in this wonderful place, no longer can do so. The small number of wonderful things becomes more narrowly held. On the other side of the country, another friend bought a bed and breakfast, for the same reason, and each week people stop buy wondering if there is a room. The impact on their lives is real, as is that on several small restaurants near by who are affected by this trend.

On a larger scale, living patterns of those with more money or income takes land that was lived on by people with much less. They now have to commute much longer distances to maintain quality of life. This is basically a tax on them, passed downwards by a system that does not recognize the trend in the lives of he poor. McCain and Bush, Gore and Bradley, can speak of a middle class tax cut. But the poor are out of the equation, even though they are half the country. It is as if we are playing musical chairs but instead of taking chairs away we are adding more people, which continuously forces a redistribution of things. In the chaos the brokers get a cut and a small number of players seem to be ending up with a larger number of chairs.

When rationality is justified as objective, but totally socially defined, have we honestly a badly mislabeled situation that suggests the need for some rethinking of our capacity to face the next round of serious issues?


>From ITAA Y2K Information Center

Y2K Costs: Who Pays?

US taxpayers will bear the burden of the over $8.5 billion spent by the federal government to safeguard federal computer systems from the Y2K bug. The Gartner Group estimates that, worldwide, the private sector spent between place the worldwide private sector remediation cost at 300 and 600 billion US dollars. In the aftermath of the Y2K hype, serious questions have been raised as to who will bear the burden of these costs  private industry or Americas insurance companies.

Prior to the millennial rollover, most Y2K-releated insurance discussions centered around product liability, business failures, and the need for directors and officers of corporations to insulate themselves from issues relating from failure to detect, remediate, or report on the Y2K problem. Now, these discussions have turned to an effort by some companies to reclaim repair and remediation costs from insurers.

In July, Xerox Corporation filed suit against one insurance company  American Guarantee and Liability  to reclaim the entire $180 million they spent to fix their Y2K problems. Xerox maintains that its insurance policy covered losses from any destruction, distortion, or corruption of any computer data, coding, program, or software. American Guarantee argues that the Y2K problem was not covered by Xeroxs policy nor does the company have a claim under the sue and labor clause in its policy as the company argues.

Sue and labor clauses allow the insured to recover costs expended to prevent a calamity from occurring on the theory that acts of prevention are less expensive for the insurance companies in the long run then paying out damage claims.

It should be noted that American Guarantee brought suit in New York state the day prior to the Xerox filing, saying they provided property coverage to Xerox and that Xerox  in making several sue and labor claims to American Guarantee  breached notice of claim and cooperation provisions of the policy and that the policy does not otherwise cover these claims.

These cases may be the first of many. GTE, Unisys and Nike also instigated legal proceedings against their insurers in 1999, claiming they should be able to recover remediation costs just as if this were a case of unexpected damage to their computer systems. More recently, Kmart and ITT Industries filed suit on December 30 to recover costs.

Which brings us to the troubling part of the story. If you believe that the Internet is the greatest explosion of free expression and cultural resources of the past century, what happens when it is merchandised as a mass-market product by the biggest corporations in history? In theory and so far practice, the Web is limitless, too powerful and diverse to be tamed or homogenized by any company, no matter how huge. Some kid out there may already have a new idea that will upend AOL Time Warner as Mr. Case outsmarted Bill Gates on the Net. But should the new AOL or its coming rivals squelch that kid, who will blow the whistle? At this point, almost every journalist in America works for at least one media octopus. (Me? Im an author at Random House, owned by Bertelsmann, AOLs partner in Europe and Australia.) Even the theoretically pure PBS now has a journalistic conflict of interest: its broad new strategic alliance with AOL just happened to be announced the day of the merger. Then theres the specter of Big Brother. No country in the history of the world has had this much information about people before, in the words of the media critic Jon Katz. Public-interest groups also worry that AOL Time Warner and its kin will run their fast Internet wires like private toll roads, banning other Internet providers or diverting them to slow and bumpy traffic lanes. Mr. Case says trust him: if he and his peers fail to guarantee an open Internet or to protect us from the nightmare of an Orwellian world, then the backup is government intervention. He also allows that the devil is in the details, and its fair for people to say Prove it  and thats what we will do over the coming months. Mr. Levin echoes him, as well as vowing independence for his journalists and artists. We may be on our own as we seek verification. Even as the country was debating the vast implications of AOL Time Warner, the otherwise loquacious current president and his would-be successors have been all but mum on the subject. Thats why its in the interest of those who havent yet ventured into cyberspace to stop procrastinating. Youll have no choice but to go there soon enough, and on this frontier as on our last, more is up for grabs now than after the barons lay down the rails. >From January 15, 2000 **

>From Bob Olson Institute for Alternative Futures.

In a corridor conversation at the World Future Societys Y2k conference a year ago, several of us got involved in a discussion about the Y2K Velcro Effect. We saw that outside-the-mainstream groups of every ideological stripe were attaching Y2K to their world views and action agendas. This was clearly happening on the Right, with survivalists, militias, and various groups of fundamentalists, including extremists who viewed Y2K as Gods revenge for our sinful ways. It was happening nearly as much on the Left, among some public interest groups, community organizers, liberal church denominations, and decentralists. And it was happening in the Radical Center among various New Agers, energy independence activists, and (my own outside-the-mainsteam clique) futurists.

As we talked about the Y2K Velcro Effect, the reason for it seemed obvious. People with unconventional social agendas saw Y2K as a possible window of opportunity for dramatic change. Things that couldnt happen in ordinary circumstances might become possible during the system break that Y2K might create.

As a moderate social transformationist, I recognized that I was a part of this pattern. I sincerely hoped Y2K would not be serious; but I also hoped that if it did hit big, we could use a kind of social Aikedo to get good things out of it... A vivid sense of our growing interdependence... A renewed appreciation of how important community, friends and family really are... A commitment to better foresight that looks out beyond annual budgets and narrow organizational perspectives... A new understanding of how good information, shared goals, and distributed efforts can produce rapid, massive change... A determination to avoid needless complexity and vulnerability in our technical systems.

What I didnt see so clearly a year ago is the danger that when people attached their agendas to Y2K this might incline them to hope  at least on a subconscious level  that Y2K would hit at least fairly hard (limited death and suffering, but enough impact to truly shake things up).

People who got into Y2K and now feel disappointment that it looks like it wont be so bad after all need to look deeply into themselves to see if that I hope its bad enough to shake things up aspiration was present, consciously or not. It could help explain why worst-case analyses remained so credible among many Y2K activists even though corporate and government leaders and markets around the world were concluding the situation would not be so bad.

There was always a lot of uncertainty. And the media may yet be wrong in proclaiming Y2K a non-event  we need a few months to be sure what the effects are. But we also need to face up to the possibility that many people who attached their agendas to Y2K became systematically biased and unable to see how effectively the world was mobilizing to head off disaster.

While the Y2K Velcro Effect may have clouded many peoples judgment, it doesnt mean their efforts were in vain. Vivid images of how disastrous Y2K could be forced leaders in industry and government to pay attention, and caused lawyers to rub their hands with glee. That was crucial for mobilizing the financial resources and support to head off the disaster that could have happened.

Food for thought.

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-- Sheri (wncy2k@nccn.net), January 22, 2000


What a pile of illiterate baloney.

Silly, sillier, silliest.

-- nobody (.@..com), January 22, 2000.

Sheri, Thanks. I learned a lot from Y2K myself--especially about the stranglehold that monied interests have on everything. I knew that, but I didn't know how deep it went or the ramifications.

-- Mara (MaraWayne@aol.com), January 22, 2000.

Thank you Sheri-really do appreciate your finds-Howie

-- Howie (biggguy79@hotmail.com), January 22, 2000.

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