Happy New YearBy Robert Gillis
Published in the Foxboro Reporter 1/1/1999

Like the other six billion folks on the planet, the new millennium has been on my mind lately. You can’t help it; we’re being bombarded with magazine articles, news reports, and even the New Year’s Eve news broadcast led with two stories: The new Eurodollar, and Y2K. So I thought I’d lead off this year with some thoughts about the upcoming New Year’s to end all New Year’s.

Back in 1997 I wrote an irreverent column about the now well-known Y2K computer bug. I’m taking it more seriously these days, however. By now you’ve seen all the massive flood of articles and news stories, with experts around the world grandly predicting everything from minor inconveniences to the absolute end of civilization as we know it due to this computer glitch which will think the year is “1900.”

What’s interesting is how widespread the FEAR is. On the world wide web, there are literally thousands of sites dedicated to the Y2K bug, and I found that the sites seemed to be divided into two camps: The people selling software fixes for Y2K, and the doomsayers and survivalists. The survivalist web sites are extremely scary. Here are some quotes taken directly from a few Y2K survivalist sites:

“Learn about storing food in case delivery systems are disrupted. Read how to store water in case electricity isn’t always available. And most importantly, protect your money in case bank runs begin in late 1999.”

And:

“On December 31, 1999 the evening news is interrupted with a special briefing that parts of Japan have lost power as they rolled into January 1, 2000. News pours in from the Soviet Union, Australia, the Middle East and Europe: the power grid wasn’t 100% compliant after all. Cities are in the dark, and mass panic is starting to spread. But the ill-informed party on.”

And:

“…build custom waterwheels for landscaping purposes or for generating your own energy—are you prepared for the year 2000?”

Another site promises nationwide martial law, panic and bank runs.

Most people don’t buy the “end of the world” idea, and doubt society will collapse. But there is one certainty about Y2K: Regardless of what ANYONE says or predicts, we will not know its full ramifications and effects until January 1, 2000. Despite years of preparation and computer fixes, ultimately we have to just wait and see.

It makes good sense that you keep hard copy of your bank statements, 401K plans, and things like that. You may need them to refute the computer’s claim that you have eleven cents invested in your mutual fund (or that you don’t exist). Keep a good paper trail of your affairs this year. You may need it later.

Beyond that, I have no grand comments or philosophies for the millennium (you’re welcome) but I’m amazed by the sheer magnitude of it – the year 2000! Anyone reading this gets to live not only in two centuries, but two millenniums!

There sure are a lot of celebrations planned. The city of Paris has already installed a millennium countdown clock on the Eiffel Tower. As the 2000th anniversary of the birth of Christ approaches, Nazareth is bracing itself for a flood of pilgrims. Even M & Ms got into the act, calling themselves “the official spokescandies of the millennium,” after all, MM is 2000 in Roman numerals.

On December 31, 1999, the United States will turn over control of the Panama Canal to Panamanians. Thousands will flock to New Zealand and the pacific Islands to see the first sunrise of the millennium on Earth. Hundreds more plan to go to Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park, Maine, to see the first sunrise in America.

Dick Clark will ring in the year 2000 in Time’s Square. First Night Boston will be a three day celebration. Many high-class restaurants have been booked for that night for years. And at last count there were more than 300,000 web sites devoted to the millennium.

And of course, there’s the debate: When does the 21st century really begin? Because there was no year “0,” there is the question of whether the new century beings in 2000 or 1999. Most everyone says “2000.” Ultimately, it’s no big deal in the grand scheme of things, but some people (mathematicians, mostly) are very passionate about the subject. I tend to agree with the man quoted in the Herald last week who said, “The millennium starts when everyone says it does.”

The year 2000 and new millennium will be many things to everyone across the planet. It’s the apocalypse for some, but millions of others will just want to, well, “party like it’s 1999.” Some others see 2000 as a time of reflection, others see it as a great opportunity to do retrospective television shows or magazine articles.

This one’s big, and probably the one event the entire planetary community will ever celebrate collectively.

Again, no cosmic thoughts here, no philosophy about 2000 (you’re welcome again). No matter what, the times ahead will be interesting. Happy New Year!

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