Issue #188, January 1, 1999  

Y2K Bug: A Contrarian Point of View

By Stephen Lawton 

ith Y2K just around the corner, maybe it's time to stop and put the next year's activities into perspective. Should users worry about whether their desktop is Y2K ready? Of course, but that's far from the most important consideration. The San Francisco blackout of December 8 should serve as a warning of what might happen on that fateful day just a year from today.
     No, I'm not talking about the power grid failing, although that certainly is a possibility. Nor am I concerned that airplanes will fall out of the sky, although that might happen too, but I doubt it. 
     I'm more interested in the little things - the kinds of things that make a real impact in our ordinary experience - like elevators not working or security cameras failing. Or, worse yet, the security device that reads my card and lets me into the office building might fail, and I'd be forced to sit at Starbucks until 7 a.m. when the doors automatically unlock. (Oops, they might have to send out a technician to undo the mechanical locks.) These are the kinds of events that really impact our quality of life. 
     Let's just image for a moment what kinds of cultural disasters might occur if the Y2K bug hits big time. When the Y2K bug hits, San Francisco's Municipal Railroad (a.k.a. Muni, the local transit system) might not run on time. No one would notice the difference, of course, but that's another discussion.
     The metering lights on the San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge might not work at rush hour, but they would go on at midnight. That's not a big deal either if you've ever seen the traffic at that hour.
     The ticket readers for BART might not open those little turnstile doors when the ticket is run through. Everyone will jump them and it'll be just like New York's subway system.
     Commuters throwing coins into the cash boxes on Orange County's toll roads won't have their money counted. No need to worry about a traffic ticket since the cameras that are supposed to take a pictures of the toll-runners' license plates won't be working either.
     I'll have to turn in my IBM ThinkPad for a Royal typewriter with an attached slide rule and box of crayons.
     All of the computers that track interest rates will revert back to the rates from 1900. Remember those long-term investments you bought with the great interest rate a few years ago? Guess what you're getting now? 
    MTV will start playing ragtime and at the local cinema you'll see a vaudeville show.  Almost everyone with a decent job would be able to afford a home at 1900 prices, but then, your salary would fall to $15 a week. 
     Looking for job security? Y2K is assuring every COBOL programmer with lifetime employment rewriting their old code. Of course, when the bug hits and all the computers turn to 1900, COBOL will be new again and it won't matter.
    The embedded chips in my VCR might fail, forcing my kids to read a book rather than watch a video. Wait a moment - that's a benefit, not a drawback.  When you get right down to it, maybe the bug isn't such a bad deal after all. 

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