Y2K or Not? (Feb. 17, 1999)

I don’t have the facts on this issue. A friend was just saying that I never let the facts get in the way of anything I write. This is not objective journalism or fact-based investigative reporting. It’s commentary. These are comments; no more, no less.

For the historically challenged, a word about fallout shelters (and a few facts). In the 50s, we were in a thing called the Cold War. The enemy was Russia. We were the good guys, the Russians were the bad guys. We knew that because our leaders, newspaper publishers and TV announcers told us so. Both sides had H-bombs, which were much bigger than A-bombs, and A-bombs were big enough to wipe out entire cities in Japan. Since those evil Russians were always on the verge of dropping H-bombs on the United States (probably because we were so good and they didn’t like that), our leaders, newspaper publishers and TV announcers told us it would be a good idea for everyone to have a fallout shelter in the backyard (nobody ever mentioned what anyone who didn’t have a backyard ought to do).

A fallout shelter was an underground bunker made of cement, and when the Russians were dropping H-bombs all over the place, all the dads were supposed to herd their families into their backyard fallout shelters. The shelter would contain enough supplies like bottled water and canned food to sustain a family for something like six weeks, or six months. After that, the family would come out and resume life as usual. Not mentioned was the certainty that even if any houses were left standing, everyone who was in the shelters would die of radiation poisoning anyway.

You were supposed to have something else in your shelter, too: a gun. This was to shoot the Joneses who were trying to force their way into your shelter because they were too stupid and short-sighted to build their own.

All this alarm about Y2K reeks of fallout shelters. A lot of people bought a lot of concrete, canned goods and guns in the Cold War, and now they’re doing it again and the threat this time is that some computer chips might not be programmed to recognize the year 2000. And once again, no one is mentioning what those without a “backyard” are supposed to do.

The computer industry people are obviously very pleased that humans have turned so much control of their lives to them. And it all happened in such a short period of time — less than 20 years. It seems to me that Bill Gates and all the other computer bigshots have a pretty good win-win situation going with this Y2K thing. If nothing happens, nothing changes except a lot of suburbanites will have a lot of canned beans and will check their investments over the internet as usual. If enough systems go down to cause any real problems, like yuppies not being able to get their stock quotes on the internet, the computer people will pass themselves off as even more god-like than they do now when they “fix” it.

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