Wineskins Archive

February 4, 2014

Y2K: Doomsday in the Offing? (Jul-Aug 1998)

Filed under: — @ 12:49 am and

by Rubel Shelly
July – August, 1998

33Hundreds and hundreds of people will die on January 1, 2000! Just as they did on June 4, 1983. And just as they will on September 16, 2003. There is nothing mystical or monstrous about the much ballyhooed and terribly-overhyped Y2K date.

It is nothing short of phony alarmism for militia groups or religious leaders to be doing their imitations of Chicken Little over the so-called millenium bug. The sky isn’t going to fall because of the rollover problem from 1999 to 2000 – or, in shortsighted computer date code – from 99 to 00.

It is easier to sell fear than information; panic than fact. With all due respect for the good work they do and whatever right things they stand for, Pat Robertson, James Dobson, and Jerry Falwell are terrorizing people with their doomsday scenarios. I know they are billing themselves as “responsible leaders” who allege their desire to warn people against “crazies” and “fanatics.” But if those terms are meant to signify people who ware untrustworthy and reckless, they stand self-labeled on this issue.

The United States government has been none too helpful on this, either. A congressional study “Investigating the Impact of the Year 2000 Problem” was released March 2, 1999. It merely recapped the near-endless series of Senate hearings from 1998 and added little new data. Many chapters summarized second-hand reports, and it was not beneath quoting unnamed sources for some of its more alarming statements.

On some days, Senator Robert Bennett (R-Utah), chairman of the Y2K committee, sounds like Chiken Little: “Widespread disruptions will have a negative effect on the world economy,” he says in one setting. Then he turns around to report that his committee fidings show the Y2K problem will be merely a “bump in the road, but that it will not be crippling and it will not last for an undue period of time.”

Hardly The End Of All ThingsBy now, everybody knows there is a technology problem impinging on governments, financial institutions, power companies, hospitals, and everyone else who is computer-dependent. Ah, but that’s you and mee too. Right? I get money from an ATM, make flight reservations through computerized systems, drive a car whose engine is controlled by a computer chip, and write editorials for Wineskins on a PC. (Note: Apple computers aren’t threatened by this vexation.)

So are we all doomed when Y2K hits? Should we begin storing food and water? Buying electrical generators? Withdrawing all our cash from banks and investment instruments at year’s end? Building bomb shelters against the Russian nuclear missiles that will be accidentally launched? Warning the world that the Anti-Christ is coming – with a bar code on his forehead? Give me a break!

On a scale from 0 to 10, the Y2K problem is not a non-problematic 0. Neither, though, is it the end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it (TEOTWAWKI) doomsday 10. It probably deserves about a 3 on such a scale. And it demands responsible preparation and precaution.

The banks and financial institutions are probably the best prepared at this point. You’re going to be able to get cash, write checks, and use your credit cards on December 31, 1999, and on January 1, 2000. Chances are, any credit cards you hold may already be showing themselves “Y2K compliant.” My wife and I have been using a Visa with an “06/01” expiration date for several months now. Unfortunately, not a single merchant has refused to let us charge items with it. That the charges went through is proved by the fact that we’ve been promptly billed for every one.

There have already been anecdotes of credit cards with post-2000 dates being rejected in a few places. Now they’ve been fixed. I’ve heard unsubstantiated stories of financial management programs crashing on home computers – but take them with a grain of salt. Most have been computing mortgage payoffs and projecting income from investments into 2000 and beyond for years already.

Social Security, TVA, Kroger, your bank – all have been working on this problem for a long time now. Not every glitch in every system in every place is going to be corrected prior to the magic moment of millennial rollover. Most of the ones that matter will be manually corrected and/or reprogrammed very quickly. Elevators will still work. (They aren’t date-sensitive, says Otis Elevator!) Your VCR, automatic coffee maker, automobile engine, credit card (rats!), and payment-due coupons will still work.

Lest you be one of the people seriously inconvenienced by the millennium bug, you probably should pay attention to the little things most of us neglect. Keep printed-on-pager copies of your financial transactions such as bank statements, mutual-fund records, and payment receipts. In other words, keep the kinds of tangible records you would need for an IRS audit.

What about first-aid kits, flashlight and batteries, a few days worth of non-perishable foods, and extra rolls of toilet paper? You need those things under everyday circumstances – but won’t die for the lack of them. What about generators, wood-burning cook stoves, a year’s supply of dried foods, or guns and ammunition? Now we’re getting creepy! A few Internet providers will make a quick (financial) killing by selling these things to people they have sacred out of their wits. I don’t want any of their “Y2K Survival Kit” clutter.

Here’s what I predict we’ll hear as we come to the end of 1999: “Scam artists bilk vulnerable people.” Criminals will be more than happy to hold your cash, keep your stock certificates, and otherwise make you “safe” against their baloney-filled sandwiches of societal meltdown. And they’ll be gone without a trace on January 1, 2000. The problem will not have been technology (the Y2K bug) but psychology (fear).

Dobson and Robertson quote Michael Hyatt’s The Millennium Bug as their source of information. Falwell offers a bizarre interpretation of the Bible that has a likely-Jewish, likely-already-born Anti-Christ among us. And Noah Hutchings writes Y2k=666? and touts the possibility tht computers might be a Satanic tool to bring down civilization.

As a Christian, I am embarrassed by the unvarnished poppycock and drivel that have surfaced over this issue. Yes, I believe in the personal return of Jesus Christ – but also believe Jesus’ statement that no special sign of his coming will be given. “no one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son,” he said, “but only the Father” (Matthew 24:36).

As a Christian, I am angry at the exploitation of people through fear that was done at the year 1000 by various would-be prophets, in 1843 by William Miller, in 1981 by Hal Lindsey, in 1988 by Edgar Whisenant, and in 1999 by Hutchings, Hyatt, Falwell, et al. At best, it is misguided (evangelistic?) fervor that discredits responsible Christian faith. At worst, it is exploitation and hucksterism.

It is reasonable to get information and do prudent things in anticipation of the problems shortsighted technology could cause. It is unreasonable to give way to hysteria. That sort of human hysteria is, in fact, much more dangerous than anything that could happen to us from haywire technology.Wineskins Magazine

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