January 2000
s m u g
by Leslie Harpold

Out of Order

One second of time on the calendar has never gotten this much media attention before and the reason has nothing to do with the fact that so much of our world is run by machines, programmed by humans who are short sighted. The most overlooked phenomenon of the Y2K hulabaloo seems to have gone undocumented. The amount of fear, the lack of confidence not just in science but in humanity to not succeed at the moment the clocks rolled to 00:00:00, 2000AD.

We didn't believe. Reactions ranged from the survivalist's bunkers stocked with all manner of food rations, beef jerky and cans of sterno, to the last minute panic of the techno hipster who suddenly decided they needed to keep 24 one liter bottles of Evian and 16 rolls of Charmin on hand "just in case." Humanity did a trust fall, and we were all so far away that the echo can still be heard in the gymnasium.

There is safety in numbers. Drilled into children to enforce the strength and validity of the buddy system, acting as a shield when heading out alone without a loving guardian to protect us, parents hoped that we would benefit from bystanders to our lives; the very strangers who only a few years ago we were rigidly advised not to talk to were to be relied on to insuring safety through their very presence. Better still were intentionally created groups, familiarizing the bystanders, so that there would be at least a shred of investment in our well being by the participants. It wasn't their concern that made us safe, it was their volume.

Raised with only two numbers presenting any danger, and the more rational minds dismissed it as superstition, and the more superstitious minds embraced it as powerful. Thirteen, after all, in numerology is four, which breaks down to the 2+2 formula, apparently one of the mightiest and happiest combinations. 666, on the other hand, the mark of the beast, held a little fear, but not in an immediate way, more in the eternal damnation sense, and those of us who were warned were also simultaneously advised on how to avoid the consequences. Nothing a little fervent love of Jesus, the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule wouldn't save us from.

Just when numbers were the last thing we could believe in, we were introduced to the Y2K problem. The same reason scary movies are scary. When that which is familiar to you behaves in a way that is unfamiliar the natural reaction is fear. That a number had the potential power to bring cities - civilizations to a halt - terrified more people than will admit it now that we've crossed the threshold unscathed. Even people with nothing but confidence in technology, even the most wide eyed optimists had to stop and reckon with this simple sequence of this terrible two and three zeroes, that might not only change their life, but life as we know it, if only for a few minutes, hours or days.

Never was the phrase 'you can't stop time' more true. In every time zone you could practically hear both the collective sharp intakes of breath just before midnight and the sighs of relief after. The surprising thing is how many are now disappointed, that this one second of time didn't change lives, didn't turn the world upside down and have now turned to being apologists, "I'm sorry, I thought it was going to be a big deal," or angry, like a jilted lover, Y2K really let them down. They expected more from Y2K. Y2K left them at the altar. After we went through all that time and expense to protect ourselves from the unstoppable demon, America now seems disappointed that the demon simply yawned when summoned by the clock, rolled over and went back to sleep.

It seems that legions of COBOL programmers, Bill Gates, Sun Systems, Cisco, the Swiss, Ganesh, Jesus, Mohammed and Buddha all heard our prayers, answered them and now we're mad because we didn't really deserve to get our wish - to be unharmed and happily moving through the new year. People are disappointed that man did not fail, like everyone was disappointed at the end of the OJ trial. Justice was not served, we are not (yet) being punished for our greed and excess.

Personally I feel that in life there are few accidents. Note that everyone was saying they were Y2K compliant. Obeying the laws of the number 2000. That so many people, not just in one city or one country were frightened, but the whole world was on alert, told me that numbers are no longer safe. After years of protecting us, we got lazy and just built things as fast as we could without letting the numbers rest or have a drink of water. Computing brought them to a new level of exhaustion since microprocessors now process numbers not only at a blindingly fast pace, but in a volume never before experienced by a society, and we inherently knew the jig was up. We all work for Y2K now. We're doing things their way. We had to make ourselves safe from the numbers, the one thing we thought would prtect us all along.

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