I'm sure most of you have heard about the "Y2K" issue by now. If you haven't, "Y2K" refers to "Year 2000" and the problem that many older computer programs set aside only 2 digits for storing dates (89, 90, etc.), rather than 4 (1989,1990,2001, etc.) - the programmers not really expecting that their programs would run beyond the year 2000. Such programs would screw up the dates when the century changes and start calculating years and ages and interest and that kind of thing wrong.
I'm by now getting at least five messages per day implying that this will mean the end of civilization as we know it. Banks will go bankrupt, utility companies will not be able to deliver your electricity and gas and water, nuclear power plants will melt down, stores will close, phone systems will break down, your car will stop running, you'll be stuck in elevators, planes will crash to the ground and nuclear missiles will malfunction.
I personally don't think it quite works that way, but before I comment further on that, let me say that I don't mean any disrespect to those of you who think otherwise or who professionally have to deal with the issue. Large companies and institutions legitimately need to address the matter, identify where in their computers they have that problem and assign some computer programmers to deal with it.
Based on my own understaning of the situation I was at first amused by all the hoopla, then thoroughly baffled by it, and then profoundly concerned that so many people can generate so much fear and doom on so little basis.
There are several issues here:
- The technical basis of the problem and
- The effects of spreading and feeding fear in the population
- The possible reasons for doing so
- Sensible preparedness for the future
THE TECHNICAL ISSUES
I'm a computer programmer, I've programmed
computers for about 20 years. I've been familiar with the Y2K issue for
a long time. It was a natural tradeoff for a programmer to choose in the
days where computer storage was expensive and the saving of two digits
would save significant resources.
I've myself written large programs that did that. I wrote a large insurance claim processing program that indeed used only two digits for the dates. I stored about 20 dates for each insurance claim and since it was handling about 1 million claims per year, it made quite a difference in resource use. Well, 40MB to be precise, but that made a difference in those days.
Every programmer who did that would know
full well that it would be a problem when the century changed. So, why
did they do it anyway? Because they knew that the fix is very simple and
very obvious. If your program is still running, when you start getting
worried about an approaching century - you go and change the program. The
change itself is a trivial task if you have the program in front of you.
Although my insurance program mentioned above consists of about 100,000
lines of source code, it is pretty obvious where the dates are stored.
Of course, if the company called me back to change it, I would first need
to refamiliarize myself with how it is
organized, which I've mostly forgotten. But still, I could make the change in a day or two. If another programmer did it, a week would be plenty.
So, what's the problem?
There is no problem if we're talking about an organization that has the source code for its programs and that has programmers on its staff or that can easily hire some. It doesn't matter if they have millions of lines of code. Both the problem and the solution are very easily identified and implemented.
Where it IS a bigger problem is in cases where the organization doesn't have the source code, either because they lost it or because it was a commercial program they never owned the source code for. Or, if the program is stored in a way that can't easily be changed. For example, satellites, nuclear missiles, phone switches, cars and elevators contain "embedded systems", i.e. the programs for their computers are stored permanently in chips and aren't easily changed. And if they're flying around in space they're very difficult to get to.
So, organizations that rely on embedded systems ought to be busy upgrading them, if dates are of any concern to them. But they ought to be busy for many other reasons too. I mean, this is not the first computer bug to come along. Any software system has many bugs and it needs to be able to be changed when the bugs are found or the circumstances change. Any organization that expects to use the same software programs for 30 years without any change isn't exactly playing with a full deck.
But, again, it is a programming issue.
I'd expect to see programmers and rocket scientists busy fixing their systems
if they haven't already done so. There's not really a whole lot to talk
about. Either you fix it or you don't. No major corporation or institution
is unaware of this issue. If they for some mysterious reason have a 30
year old phone system tucked away
somewhere, or they bought their accounting system in the 60s and the vendor went out of business, it is probably time to upgrade it, and this would only be one of the least significant reasons for doing so.
As a computer programmer I'm somewhat
surprised that one program bug can get so much attention. I think a major
reason is that it is so simple and easily understood by the general population.
Software systems can be very complex and most problems are much, much more
complicated than this to identify and fix. If anybody feels a need to worry,
there's a lot of
complex unidentified problems that would be much more difficult to deal with.
Finally, in case there are programs that are in use on January 1st 2000 that have the Y2K problem, the expectation that everything involved with them will grind to a halt is rather unrealistic and represents a fundamental misunderstanding of how computers work. We're talking about DATES. If the date is wrong in your computer, you have a wrong date. Your files might be stamped wrong date. Doesn't mean that everything else won't work. If your phone company has a problem with dates they might send you a wrong statement. The social security administration might get your age wrong. Your car and your toaster and your elevators could certainly care less what date it is.
And, looking at the amount of attention
this is getting, and the billions that are being spent on consultants who
will talk about it, it is very, very unlikely that the major institutions
in our society will just forget to fix it. Particularly if they smell the
coffee and involve some actual
computer programmers in it, rather than just talk about it and go to conferences about it.
FEAR AND DOOM
Reading most of the messages that are circulating about Y2K, it strikes me how little they have to do with the actual technical issues. I mean, it isn't programmers who are talking about how to fix it. It is mostly either big shot Authorities or lay people who talk about how disasterous it would be when everything suddenly stops working.
Fear easily gets to be contagious. If
people have hidden fears within themselves, it doesn't take much to get
them amplified by being provided with something to anchor them in. And
this is a perfect occasion if you don't know too much about computers,
but you use them every day. An
apparent excuse for fueling your fear that everything you know will suddenly be yanked away from under you.
But your emotions are shaping the reality
you're creating for yourself and the people around you. Faced with an immediately
dangerous situation fear can be quite useful, motivating you to act quickly
in getting out of danger. Fear, when faced and overcome, can also be a
tool in personal
growth. But if it is a persistent underlying self-reinforcing fear about something you aren't in a position to do anything about, fear easily becomes the building material for a gloomy future.
The choices you make make all the difference in the world. If you choose a world that is going down the drain, that is what you're creating around you. That is what you add energy to, that is what you pass on to the people around you.
Fear makes you easy to control.
Fear makes you smaller.
Fear makes you defend yourself
Fear is a self-fulfilling prophecy
Notice the distinction between a fear
that you can immediately act on and the fear that is abstract, persistent,
hovering in the air, the fear that leaves you incapacitated. The first
kind of fear is simply a signal to get out of danger. You take action and
you no longer have to be afraid. The second fear is mostly based on sub-conscious
material, the accummulation of
a lot of unidentified stuff in your mind that you don't want.
Pay close attention to who is trying to make you generally fearful. Notice what is going on for them, dig into what their agendas might be.
And CHOOSE. Choose what you want, choose
what world you want to live in.
Act accordingly. Feed your energy to that which you want more of.
WHY IS IT HAPPENING?
OK, one thing that is going on is just the general fear people have of the unknown, and that individuals are trying to be helpful by passing around information that seems important.
But if there's a more organized attempt of spreading this "information", what might it be?
My own instinct is that this is an excellent example of mass mind control. It is a very clever way of making people fearful of the new millennium, and probably of making a lot of money in the process.
This is a great antidote to all the excitement about the new millennium. So much for a Day in Peace 2000 and all the other hopeful, optimistic, contructive plans for celebrating the entrance into a new era. Line up a bunch of experts and authorities who tell you that society will break down as soon as we enter it, that's a nice way to kill the excitement.
And then there's the principle of "follow
the money". Notice who profits from both all the attention on Y2K and from
the fear of general collapse. It certainly opened my eyes to read that
some of the major driving forces in the Y2K issue are the Bank for International
(http://www.bis.org/), the secretive, privately owned organization that controls the network of central banks, and the U.S. military.
Y2K is a market in the billions of dollars for consultants and conferences and Y2K experts. It is also an excellent opportunity for governments and banks to expand their reach. And it probably has enormous profit potential for institutions that operate in a certain sphere of our economy and who predict the outcome well.
The Y2K concept has some clever protective
mechanisms built into it. It is very easy to claim that those who aren't
taking it seriously just haven't looked at the real issues, that they're
just not well informed or they're sticking their head in the sand. And
"taking it seriously" necessarily
means buying into implications of disaster.
Most messages I've seen on Y2K are full of misleading or erroneous information. First of all, the descriptions of the problem itself usually have nothing to do with the realities of computer programming. And what I've been able to check out of secondary information of imminent collapse has usually turned out to be wrong. Like, when you hear that the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank is printing extra currency around the clock to stock up in local banks to prepare for the collapse of the banking system, go and check it out. The information is on the web.
All that said, many of the systems that
keep our society working are rather fragile and might very well collapse,
either gradually or suddenly. Not because the date is wrong in your computer,
but because the world is changing and they're outmoded dinosaurs that might
not serve us much
longer, and new paradigms will have to take their place.
Our civilization is changing very rapidly
and the pace is in no way slowing down. Most of our institutions are based
on bureaucratic centralized models that made good sense 100 years or longer
ago. Most of our systems are based on 1st or 2nd wave organizational approaches.
The 1st wave was the agricultural revolution. In the 1st wave, those who
own the land have the
upper hand. 1st wave organization is signified by hierarchies of control or ownership and by distinctions of class. The 2nd wave was the industrial revolution. In the 2nd wave, those who control the production machinery and the capital have the upper hand. 2nd wave organization is signified by centralized bureacracy, by factory models of doing things - produce the same thing over and over again from a centralized location.
We're already just about through the 3rd
wave, the information society, where those who control the information
or the media or the public opinion are in the lead. Information is increasinly
becoming freely available and we're moving into something beyond that,
into what I would expect to be a bottom up self-organizing networked society
where power comes from local
creativity and wisdom.
New organizational approaches need to go along with these drastic changes. The old centralized institutions, and those who profit from their existence, will necessarily have to transform into something new, or become extinct in the process.
That is not a show-stopping problem unless you have a very vested interest in the continued existence of the old systems and you keep holding on to them. If you keep yourself flexible enough to go through the necessary transformations, new better ways naturally will emerge.
The Y2K issue itself might be called an
attempt of using 3rd wave methods of maintaining control over populations.
It is a media virus infesting the mass consciousness. That's a step forward
in paradigms, just not an altogether construtive one for a population that
wants to be free, happy,
prosperous and safe.
On the positive side, the talk about Y2K does put attention on the fragile nature of our centralized systems. It does bring up the need for alternative more fault-tolerant solutions.
Indeed, most of us are still very dependent on elements of the societal infrastructure that might be subject to change. Y2K or not, it would be good advice to start investing your attention into more viable alternatives.
- Start looking at alternative economies, local exchange systems, barter systems, gift economies. Make yourself less dependent on the continued rise of the stock market or the health of your national curency.
- Make your living in more independent ways. Don't count on some large company providing you employment and retirement benefits forever.
- Get connected with more localized means for acquiring food and energy and whatever else you need. Grow a vegetable garden, put up solar panels.
- It wouldn't be a bad idea to stock up on supplies that you need. All sorts of events might close down your local supermarket for a few days or weeks.
- When possible, choose technology that is self-contained or distributed, that isn't dependent on centralized mechanisms.
- Gather your own information, experience things for yourself, make your own decisions. Don't depend on the news to tell you what is really going on.
- Develop community around you. Get friends and relatives and associates you can rely on if needed. Get to know and trust people with an assortment of skills and resources.
- Invest your energies in the elements of a new civilization. Bet on systems that will be able to handle rapid change and be able to work well in chaotic conditions. Don't bet on the unchanging continuation and stability of the old centralized systems.
Evolution is a good thing. Things change. If you adjust to the change, things change for the better. If you resist change, you might get burned and have to change overnight, rather than gradually and comfortably.
It is all a matter of choosing continously. Choose more of what you want, more of what is viable, empowering, socially conscious, ecologically sound and fun. Don't choose that which makes you smaller, more stupid, more fearful, more dependent.
Ride the change, surf the wave of evolution. Choose wisely to the best of your integrity. Keep an open mind, stay flexible, don't get too attached to any particular outcome. And you'll be alright.