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December 15, 2019 12:34 pm

Do You Remember the Y2K Bug?

harrymcc writes:In the late 1990s, lots of people were concerned that the Y2K bug could lead to power outages, financial collapse, riots, and worse when the clock rolled over to January 1, 2000. Hundreds of books about the problem and suggestions on how to respond (quit your job, move to the country, stockpile food) not only capitalized on this fear but helped to spread it. Over at Fast Company, I marked the 20th anniversary of the "crisis" with a retrospective on the survival guides and what we can learn from them. The article calls them "an eternally useful guide to how not to give people advice about technology and its role in their lives... They provided a brief layperson's guide to the origins of the problem, and then segued into nightmare scenarios."They had scary titles like Time Bomb 2000 and The Millennium Meltdown. Their covers featured grim declarations such as "The illusion of social stability is about to be shattered... and nothing can stop it" and garish artwork of the earth aflame and bombs tumbling toward skylines. Inside, they told readers that the bug could lead to a decade or more of calamity, and advised them to stockpile food, cash, and (sometimes) weapons. There were hundreds of these books from publishers large and small, some produced by people who turned the topic into mini-media empires... Spoiler alert: When January 1, 2000, rolled around, nothing terrible happened. By then, techies had spent years patching up creaky code so it could deal with 21st-century dates, and the billions invested in the effort paid off. Some problems did crop up, but even alarming-sounding ones -- such as glitches at nuclear power plants -- were minor and resolvable. On December 31st, 1999, Roblimo posted a call for comments from Slashdot readers, writing "This thread ought to make an interesting chronicle of Y2K events -- or non-events, as the case may be." But NBC had even filmed a made-for-TV Y2K disaster movie (which Jon Katz called "profoundly stupid and irresponsible.") And one survivalist videotape even featured an ominous narration by Leonard Nimoy.

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