The Millennium Bug
The millennial sun will first rise over human civilization in the independent republic of Kirbati, a group of thirty low lying coral islands in the Pacific Ocean. Kirbati straddles the equator and the International Dateline halfway between Hawaii and Australia. ?For those who live in a world that relies on satellites, air, rail and ground transportation, manufacturing plants, electricity, heat, telephone, or TV, when the calendar clicks ’99 to ’00, we will experience a true millennial shift (Peterson).?
As the sun moves westward on January 1, 2000 and the date shifts silently within millions of computerized systems, we will begin to experience our computer dependent world in a new way. At the stroke of midnight, the new millennium heralds the greatest challenge to modern society that we have yet to face as a planetary community. Whether we experience this as chaos or social transformation will be influenced by what we do immediately.
What is theY2K (Year 2000) problem? When computer systems were built in the 1960’s and 1970’s computer hardware was too expensive. To reduce costs, programmers looked for ways to reduce data storage requirements. It was common for year to be stored in databases in two digit fields rather than four digits.
Why is this a problem now? The systems built during this period were not very user friendly, but the computers were most critical to business operations. Because these systems of the 1960’s and 1970’s were not designed to run in multiple centuries, most will either produce incorrect information or simply fail at the end of the century. It may not sound like much effort to fix these machines, but in fact, it involves a great deal of time and expense. The Gartner Group, a respected information technology researcher, estimates that it will cost as much as $600 billion worldwide. If the problem is not addressed in time, the consequences could be catastrophic.
There is currently widespread awareness that Y2K involves more than the failure of an individual’s personal computer, or an incorrect date in a spreadsheet. ?It is now widely understood that Y2K could affect the lives of individuals, but exactly in what manner is unknown (Associated P 1).? Today computers are used to operate most mechanical equipment that affects every aspect of our lives. In 1991 the IRS has 88,000 programs on eighty mainframe computers to debug. By the end of 1997 they had cleaned up only two thousand programs. At that rate it would take the IRS 264 years to debug all 88,000 programs.
Y2K is a technical problem that cannot be solved by technology, the first ever non negotiable deadline, a systematic crisis that no one can solve alone, a crisis that transcends boundaries and hierarchies, and an opportunity to simplify and redesign major systems (Peterson 1).?
How bad is the Y2K problem? Many studies have been done to estimate the cost of addressing this problem. The Y2K problem would not be as serious today had business and government leaders dealt with the situation earlier. Consequently, a race against the clock is underway. For many organizations work has not even begun!
Why isn’t the Y2K being addressed? The biggest problem today is the lack of concern by many businesses and governments to take this problem seriously, in spite of literature available. Many people do not understand how a simple computer glitch could affect the world. Some business owners are aware of the problem but may be keeping silent in hopes of not spooking their stock. It is possible that many of our elected leaders do not see the potential of social and economic disaster.
What could happen? Your telephone service is terminated because of errors in data calculations, your driver’s license expires because the motor vehicle department cannot recognize dates after December 31, 1999, the department store rejects your credit card because your payment is 100 years overdue, your bank’s automated teller swallows your card, thinking it has expired and your Social Security payments are cut off because the agency’s computers miscalculate your age. ?While elsewhere, bank vaults refuse to open, building security systems fail, refusing to read coded cards or keys, and airline flight schedules are thrown into disarray because of flaws in the air traffic control system computers (The Year 2000).?
How can you prepare? Try to make all possible preparations as soon as you can. It would be a good idea to keep extra cash hand, perhaps enough to live on for an entire week. ?Plan to spend a fair amount of time checking, upgrading and preparing your home computer and software applications (Zuckerman 1).? Have plenty of battery-operated lights, long burning candles or kerosene lamps. Kerosene heaters and wood stoves are alternative means for heating your home.
The earth continues to circle the sun and the calendar relentlessly progresses toward the year 2000. If we cannot immediately change from rhetoric to action, from politics to participation or turn to one another and work together for a common good, we will stand fearfully in that new dawn and suffer consequences that might well have been avoided if we had learned to stand together now.
Audience Note: This essay would be found on the front page of the Dallas Morning News. This topic will mainly effect major business owners or big corporations.
Works Cited Page
Peterson, John L. ?Social Chaos or Social Transformation?? 2000 Problem-Y2K-Year 2000 Crisis. 20 Nov. 1999. Available at (20 Nov. 1999).
Associated P. ?Countries’ Y2K Readiness Rated. ? USA Today [Arlington] 30 Nov.1999: 1.
?The Year 2000 Problem: What Could Happen.? The New York Times 20 Nov.1999: 1.
Zuckerman, M.J. ?Do’s and Don’ts of Y2K.? USA Today [Arlington] 24 Nov. 1999:1.
Computers and Internet Essays