1999: The End of the World as We Know It

The End of the World as We Know It

The Birmingham Post, by Columnist Chris Tomlinson

What exactly I am going to do next year, when I find myself stuck for column inches, I do not know, but this week I’d like to take a serious look at the Y2K issue.

With half the IT industry toiling away trying to making systems compliant and the other getting tooled up with lawyers in case they fail, have we have overlooked something?

For instance, in the States a lot of people seem to believe that the world as we know it will end at midnight on December 31, 1999. They call it “The End of the World as We Know It” – or TEOTWAWKI for short, which surely in itself indicates the parlous state of their minds.

They believe that when the first second of the Year 2000 arrives, computers controlling just about everything in the civilised world (and America) will go beserk – and things will never be the same again. So they’re reacting in the same way that they react to any other potential end of the world situation by stocking up with baked beans and arming themselves to the teeth. Understandably so, there’s all sort of crazy people out there.

The Y2K thing has thrown up all sorts of crackpots. I saw one report recently which mentioned a Californian community called Morningland (presumably nothing much happens there after lunch) whose members allegedly believe that the dawn of the Millennium will be a signal for Jesus to arrive in a spaceship to deliver their souls from earth.

This would inadvertently solve the Y2K date problem as presumably it would no longer be 2000 years after Christ Anno Domini but 0000AD . Which is perhaps what the computers have been trying to tell us all along. Those COBOL programmers where smarter than I thought.

The only problem is we’ve just spent the last five years fixing everything, or rather breaking it, so TEOTWAWKI is back on. Perhaps we’ll need that space ship after all.

Of course, we’ve heard this kind of stuff before – while the Hale Bopp comet was making its way past earth, members of another US based cult, the Heaven’s Gate community, all committed suicide.

This turned out to be a process which their leader had decreed would see the cult transported up to a spaceship lurking behind the comet. Why they couldn’t use the tele-transporter like everyone else I don’t know.

What’s worrying me is that both these organisations seem to have more than their fair share of technologists – one of the main sources of income for the Heaven’s Gate community was designing web sites.

In doing the usual extensive research for this column, I found a Web site put up by “Ex-Morninglanders”, who, I guess, had started feeling altogether more optimistic about the future – perhaps they had finally completed all their supplier’s Y2K audits questionnaires. Or perhaps they had just got fed up with all those early starts.

But I suspect that since TEOTWAWKI is unlikely to arrive on Jan 1, 2000, people like these – and all the other Y2K nuts – are going to have to find some other reason for behaving as they do. Sadly, I’m sure they will.

Chris can be contacted at chris@webxpress.co.uk. Previous articles can be found at http://www.webxpress.co.uk.