Most mainframe computers over ten years old, and microchips over three years old -- and many personal computers, applications and databases -- were not programmed to handle a four-digit year. To them, 1998 is just "98," 1982 is just "82," etc. While the reasons for this oversight made sense at the time (because computer memory was scarce, every space-saving measure was used), the turn of the millennium may cause these computers, chips and programs to malfunction. These computer systems and devices may simply stop, or start spewing "garbage" data, or make faulty calculations. Because there are less than 18 months before the year 2000, and because there are more than 180 billion lines of code-and countless "embedded" microchips-that need to be screened all over the world, there is not enough time to fix the problem before computers start to react. Many people have been working on it, and there simply is not enough time. There will be consequences. This situation is referred to as "Y2K" (K signifying 1000), the millennium "bug" or "bomb", or just "the Year 2000 problem."
I don’t own a computer. How could Y2K affect me?
Even if you do not normally use a computer at home or at work, and even if you avoid unnecessary "technology," this problem will likely affect your daily life, possibly in dramatic and disturbing ways. Why? Because we live in a world that relies on satellites, air, rail, and ground transportation, manufacturing plants, electricity, heat, telephones, and television-all of which are connected in "networks" of interdependent processes. Financial and banking systems, utilities, government, healthcare, defense-all of these systems rely on computers. This global network is largely invisible to us because it has worked so well, so far. But as random computer systems in various aspects of society begin to fail, they will likely cause "cascading failures" in the systems that are part of their network, and we will become aware, quickly, of our level of dependence.
What could happen?
Analysts' opinions vary from predicting the "end of life as we know it"-a catastrophic scenario where all our infrastructures fail and society is thrown into chaos-to those who say it will simply be experienced as a "bump in the road." However, there are three commonly shared views by all who are analyzing the problem (even the most optimistic): first, we cannot fix it in the time we have left; second, there will be consequences that we feel in daily life; and third, the failures of the systems will compound the challenge of fixing the original problem. No one can predict exactly what will occur, but it is safe to assume that the infrastructures that form the foundation for our daily activities-for instance, electrical power-will become unreliable in many regions for an undetermined amount of time. We will be forced to find other ways to do things, and we may experience shortages of food and other supplies as transportation systems are disrupted.
The following is a list of possible consequences:
•The social security administration could miscalculate ages, causing payment errors and delays.
•State and local computers systems could produce corrupt information, creating errors in income & property tax records, payroll, and transportation systems.
•Failed communications systems may disable 911 emergency services, causing hazardous health and safety situations.
•Businesses may make errors in the budget, accounts records, and supplies and inventories creating problems for vendors and customers.
•Your bank may not be ability to process ATM and direct deposit transactions.
Other Problem Dates
Why don't we hear more?
Y2K is not getting much press because the media are 80% corporate owned. Some big corporations are not divulging the true problems associated with Y2K because they are fearful of shareholder suits claiming negligence. Also, due to the serious implications to the successful operation of government and financial institutions, down-playing Y2K may be a short-term solution while people scramble to try and fix the problem. A few are concerned that adverse media could effect consumer confidence in banks and public institutions. As many have noted, there is a fine line between informing and panicking the public.
What we can do
We can educate ourselves, our beloveds, our neighbors, and our communities. We can begin to prepare ourselves for the potential and probable disruptions in daily life. We can ask our service providers, local businesses and government official about their level of preparedness, and how we can help them. The best way to insure that you are safe and cared for is to make sure your neighbor feels safe and cared for. "Adopt a crisis mentality without falling into panic." We are all in this together.
The good news
Regardless of the level of consequences-whether this turns out to be a "bump in the road" or a major worldwide catastrophe-the work we do to create trusting relationships and to build our communities will serve us well as a society. The era of restoration will benefit from these efforts, and we can take this opportunity to rethink some of the ways society has operated in the last few decades.
Why should I believe you?
In a word, don’t. This problem is unique in history and no one person can claim to know exactly what will happen. So, educate yourself. There are plenty of Internet web sites, books and magazine articles that cover Y2K. Study the evidence and various viewpoints, then draw your own conclusions. This is not doomsday. It is, however, potentially one of the most disruptive problems of our generation. If you educate yourself, then you can prepare in the event a serious situation develops. Preparation doesn’t mean you believe the worst will happen, it simply means you are taking reasonable precautions.