Countdown to the Millennium

Donna Philibert, December 1999

As we approach the end of this century, many people have raised concerns regarding the serious issues surrounding the Y2K problems. Although no one knows precisely what will happen on January 1, 2000, the general opinion is that Y2K related problems will cause failures of basic services including utilities, water and phone service. Contrary to popular opinion, I believe that the Y2K problems will have more of a positive effect on our society because it has caused us to analyze more carefully, the data and the technology we rely on in everyday situations. In addition, the new millennium will usher an era of tremendous opportunities for technological advancements in our society. In other words, the current preparations to avert a Y2K crisis, has given us an advantage which will minimize technological breakdowns in the future and create new technology which will ensure a relatively smooth transition into the new millennium.

The main focus of our concerns regarding the Y2K crisis is the fact that we know precisely when it is scheduled to begin and "this appointment with destiny cannot be postponed or avoided" (Jeffrey 10). During the past eighteen months, we have been bombarded with extensive information in the media regarding the Y2K problem including predictions on how it will impact our society. This problem can be traced back to approximately forty years ago, when programmers in the fledging computer industry made a fateful decision to save memory and space by recording year dates with only two digits. Unfortunately, no one anticipated that these early computer programs and mainframes would still be using these systems in 1999. As a result, this technological glitch may cause computer software that uses two digits to identify the year to misinterpret the "00" to be the year 1900 rather than the Year 2000.

Overall, we have made significant improvements within the last 18 months to correct the Y2K problems; therefore, we should not experience a crisis of the magnitude that was originally predicted. Firstly, in light of the potential for disruption the Year 2000 poses to our society, the government has provided encouraging information on the status of government agencies to assure the public that nearly all financial institutions and utilities are Y2K compliant. The Energy Secretary, appeared in an interview on November 29, on the Oprah Show and he stated that nearly all financial institutions and utilities are Y2K compliant. Although he reported that the utilities are 99% Y2K ready, there is a possibility that approximately 26 utilities out of a total of 3,000 are not in compliance. This means that there is a chance for power failure in some communities. In addition, financial institutions are 99.9% ready, but approximately five banks out of a total of 10,000 are not in compliance. We were also informed that banks would not run out of money since a surplus of more than fifty million dollars were printed in anticipation of the increased demand for cash prior to New Yearıs Eve. However, banks have recommended that if people choose to withdraw large sums of money, these transactions should be done prior to December 31st in order to avoid excessive transactions that day which may overload the banking system.

Secondly, most corporations and large businesses have spent millions of dollars to update their computer systems to address the Y2K problems, and avert system crashes. They have also allocated resources to constantly monitor the situation to detect errors and miscalculations. However, small businesses that have less financial resources available to fix all their computer systems are concerned that they will experience disruptions which could result in bankruptcy. Another example of disruptions which could affect the daily routine,is the fact that elevators may shut down because they may interpret the date change to mean they need to schedule maintenance. One of the more frustrating aspects of the Y2K crisis is that the business world is extremely vulnerable from the wide range of other systems that may experience crashes, in addition to their mainframe and desktop computers. For example, many Private Branch Exchange (PBX) phone systems have non-compliant embedded microchips that may cause the system to fail. There are also billions of embedded chips which are hidden in the equipment and machinery that normally make our lives safe, efficient, and comfortable. Many of these microchips have not yet been identified and are not Y2K complaint. This will create interruptions which should only last for a few weeks until they are fixed. The good news is that our telephone service should be in operation since all major telecommunications companies have reported that their computer systems are compliant.

Thirdly, in spite of Y2K, the economy has continued to remain strong and there are still no signs of the full-scale economic depression, which has been predicted for many years. However, if small companies collapse due to lack of preparation in Y2K compliance, and trigger high unemployment, there is a serious risk for recession.

I prefer to remain optimistic that major systems failures will be averted because of the extensive preparations to avoid disaster. It is estimated that more than 600 billion dollars has been spent worldwide to fix this problem. The fact is some communities will experience interruptions in power supply, and other utilities, hopefully for short periods and the worst case scenario, could be a few weeks. However, these incidents will not translate into doomsday proportions and will not mean the "end of the world" as we know it. There is less reason to panic over Y2K because unlike the many natural disasters that we experienced in the United States we were able to proactively address this crisis. I am certain that we will witness one of the best New Year's Eve celebration in this century as the Waterford crystal ball is expected to drop and glow " 2000" in brilliant lights and the city lights will stay on.


Works Cited

Gould, Stephen Jay. Questioniung the Millennium. New York: Harmony Books, 1999.

Seymour, Jim PC Magazine. "The Year 2000 Countdown" New York: April 1999.

Jeffrey, Grant R. The Millennium Meltdown. Toronto: Frontier Research Publication, Inc., 1998.

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