I Hope It's an Untrue Prediction

Last Wednesday before the jam started at Avo's, I was sitting at a table tuning up and talking to friends when Maude Lynne, one head of the synthesized tambourine-playing Siamese twins, said, "I read where all the computers will stop on January 1, 2000."

Her sister head, Misty Ida Motion, added, "The economy will get sick and die from the Millennium Bug."

"It's not a bug!" said Seymour Sharpe. "Look at your checkbook. Isn't the '19' already filled in so you don't have to write out the full year? And because of increasing lifespans, lots of gravestone engravers are going to be stuck with headstones precut with '19.' That isn't a computer problem. Everyone wants to save time and effort so they request systems with easy date entry. Y2K is a user requirement issue, not a software bug."

"There are still going to be problems," said Sue Forebucks, a lawyer who plays a solid gold, slide ukulele. "My firm has already filed some performance lawsuits against companies whose systems couldn't process orders to be delivered in the year double-aught."

"Oh there will be minor problems," agreed Seymour, "but there won't be a collapse of civilization."

"I disagree," I said.

"What?!?" said Seymour. "You don't really believe the electricity and water and phones will die, do you? None of those embedded chips found in a car engine or toaster care about the year."

"Calm down," I said. "You're right about the water and electricity still flowing. But there will still be economic disruption and widespread panic due to self-fulfilling prophecy."

"You mean like how someone says they can't make friends," said Maude Lynne, "so they get depressed and don't smile and people won't talk to them so they get even more depressed?" The sister heads glared at each other.

I ignored their emotional battle. "That's one example of a self-fulfilling prophecy. For the Year 2000 stuff, we will create our own problems together. For example, in CIO magazine, they had a big article about Toyota. Not only is the company going to stockpile parts for their cars, they're also purchasing fuel and gas-powered electric generators and will remove all valuables from the time-locked safes at dealerships. Ignore the fact that if power goes out nationwide, people aren't going to buy cars anyway. Just think what will happen when other companies start looking to purchase or rent generators and there aren't any."

"Ooooooh," said Seymour. "They're already scared of the future and that scarcity will put them over the edge. They'll start hoarding food. Then the grocery stores will go empty and everyone will panic as prices rise. People will try to pull cash out of banks and they'll close. There will be widespread pandemonium."

"Exactly," I said. "And this would happen in October or November when the date problem is still in the future. The panic we cause through unnecessary fears could stretch the systems of society to a breaking point."

"So is the situation hopeless?" asked Sue.

"Not at all," I said, "as long as enough of us don't give in to panic, and calm the others who do. The computers won't crash next New Year's Day, but our society could collapse before that if we don't maintain reasonable expectations."

Seymour started laughing. "At least one benefit of a complete collapse next October would be that whatever does stop working at midnight when 2000 finally rolls in will seem paltry and irrelevant. Of course, that revelation will probably not give anyone much comfort if we're starving in the cold because of our own reactions to imaginary fears."