“LMFAO! I can’t believe they actually fell for it!” — Y2K Bug
The Y2K BUG, also known as the “Millennium Glitch,” was a perceived system flaw in personal, commercial and point-of-sale (POS) systems that raised the concerns of consumers and technology professionals alike. It’s sensationalism peaked between the years 1999 and 2000, resulting in a panic that was hardly understood by most and outright irrational in hindsight. This is mostly due to the limited information that was available during that time.
The Year 2000 and Inevitable Y2K Bug
Before the year 2000, or “new millennium” (as it was called during those days), many software programs represented years in four single digits. Nothing out of the ordinary here, except for that only the last two of these digits were being stored. Memory was still an expensive commodity at the time and the availability of such media was limited in the marketplace.
This was compounded by the fact that many snippets of code were written during a period of rapid development and simply lacked the foresight and awareness of a turning of a millennium. For example, groundbreaking developments in computer networks occurred in the 1960s. The most notable of these was the ARPANET, which is best described as the precursor (and military version) of the Internet. The 1990s saw its commercialization, forming the Web we know today.
Still, it cannot be discounted that prior to the year 2000, many technological advancements had just occurred within the span of the forty (40) years. It can also be argued that the modern discipline of project management was about fifty (50) years old. Considering these points, along with the actual process of development used during this period, it isn’t difficult to understand how or why engineers failed to see the switch of centuries, let alone millenniums. Hence, the Y2K Bug was born.
Implications of the Y2K Bug
Needless to say, the idea of there possibly being a Y2K Bug was blown way out of proportion and became something of a hoax. The shills of corporate media and pop culture began promoting narratives that were meant to exploit the innocence of a pre-social media society, causing people to panic and over react. Many heard whispers of massive failures in existing systems. There were expectations that banking systems would fail, that planes would randomly fall out of the sky, and that the destruction would be so widespread that it would take a very long time for things to return to a sense of normalcy.
To be fair, banking systems were the most susceptible to such a collapse since most calculate interest at a daily rate. So keeping with the prognosis of the last two (2) digits of a year being stored: If the digits 99 would increment to 00, the first two digits (19) would remain the same. The banking systems would interpret the new date as 1900 instead of 2000 and record a negative interest.
Transport systems were susceptible, too, and would ideally become backlogged as a result of jumbled schedules. But nearly every other use case and scenario was unfounded and based solely on fearmongering. Even local news anchors weighed in on the controversy, suggesting that their audience begin stocking up on as much bottled water as they could manage. To some, the Y2K Bug was synonymous with “hell on earth.”
As with most New Year Eve celebrations, many churches held candlelight services for the holiday in the year 1999. It can be assumed that every person in church that night felt safe, and that if the lights suddenly blew because of some system failure, at least they’d be together and have candles to find their way around the dark. Ironically, when 12:00AM struck and the year 2000 became a reality, there were very few problems or even hints of a Y2K Bug.
The only major reported failure was in Japan and involved a number of nuclear facilities. These systems were said to have failed due to incorrect date readings. They was mitigated, however, through backup systems that were Y2K compliant. Other problems with the systems were fixed by middleware companies before the onset of the new millennium.
The likelihood of there ever being another hoax of this magnitude is (hopefully) slim. For one, computer memory and storage have become significantly inexpensive in comparison to their prices twenty (20) years ago. This means that four-digit year dates, or even five-digit year dates for that matter, can be easily supported. But technical speak aside, it is also likely that people are much more savvy than they were in the year 2000 and won’t be as easily misled.