Twenty-one years ago, the world panicked over an invisible, media-hyped enemy. That enemy was Y2K, a problem whose shadow was much larger than its substance. Unfortunately, COVID-19 may be this era’s equivalent of that ‘millennium bug.’
The Y2K problem was essentially this: many computers had two digits for dates. If they went to 00, the computer might think it was 1900 instead of 2000 and all hell would break loose.
It sounds laughably silly now but it wasn’t then. A steady stream of ‘experts’ fed the fear starting in 1997. Surely that many people couldn’t be wrong … right?
Capers Jones, author of the 1997 book The Year 2000 Software Problem, said it would take a $3.6-trillion effort to fix the bug.
In his January 1999 article, The Y2K Nightmare, Robert Sam Anson suggested in Vanity Fair that the year 2000 could “arrive in darkness and chaos.” As proof, “the ominous results of Y2K tests … lay bare the dimensions of a global ticking time bomb.” The electrical grid, communication networks, and water systems could fail, leading to food and medicine shortages, riots and societal collapse.