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The Dragoons of Cultural Fantasy, Part 3

Y2K , I’M OK
For instance, the details supporting the prediction that at the stroke of Midnight the failure of embedded computer chips or flawed programs will lead to catastrophic collapse of our whole power grid are about as patchy as a string of letters plucked from random words. You can beef it up with technical jargon to make it sound more scientific and irrefutable. Throw in the bit about stock market collapse and no social security checks and you’ll have people begging to be led out of the Wilderness!

I’ve read a lot about Y2K. It’s embarrassing. Like being caught at the checkout stand reading that story about the man at a Sperm Bank finding out he’s his brother’s father. But my decade long experience with programming makes me fascinated with the spurious logic behind many of the Y2K predictions. For instance, not all decision-making routines are year sensitive. The chip in the power transformer is more likely to activate based on voltage than the day’s date being 1900. Our power grid would have gone down long before this if maintenance was only performed after computers gave permission. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen some pretty bizarre code launched in my day. But I doubt that a 747 has a program on board authorized to shut down all jet engines while flying at 39,000 feet because the last time they were serviced was 85 years before they were built. But doomsayers say it only takes a hidden, fatal flaw in a single line of code to do the deed. I commend this growing awareness of the concept of interdependence, but I think its use here is a bit dubious.

Emphasizing the house-of-cards or domino effect is just one perspective. You could just as easily emphasize another. I, for one, believe in the power of corporate greed. There’s no way you can convince me that utility conglomerates are going to let us sit in the dark while they lose billions. It would be reassuring, to think otherwise. What would happen if more of us saw they’re not as powerful as we’re taught to believe? We’d be talking real panic. But on their side for a change!

For those saying I’m in denial, I could just as easily question their credulous acceptance of predictions of doom. I mean, isn’t it pretty foolish to let the very industry that got us into this mess chart a way out?

Is this issue only about technological updates? Or should we be spending these billions instead to create an infrastructure that’s not dangerously dependent on clumps of inanimate silicon? Why should we trust that a technical fix today won’t contain a meaner Bug, tomorrow? Y2.1K? Dependency is dependency. Taking a bigger dose never cured an addiction. Maybe it’s time we Just Say NO! As in, “Take this Plentium® III and shove it, I ain’t working here no more!”

Floating A Con Or Taking The Cure
The gut-wrenching contortions roused by Millennium Fears feel overly contrived. On one level, it’s very simple. We’re all suckers for a new start. Whether a rabid fundamentalist, a dreamy New Ager, or a computer geek with an upgrade itch s/he can’t scratch, the chance to begin again is a hard one to resist. Of course, new beginnings don’t remain unblemished for long.

New entanglements will raise their captivating heads. We sway to the snake charmer’s flute as notes spew forth promising powers beyond our wildest dreams. We slither to join the collective performance. We have premonitions. We see signs. We learn and teach methods of augury. If you can keep a straight face while telling others where it’s at, job opportunities abound. It doesn’t matter whether the message is laced with impending doom or promises of final deliverance. Attentive ears are there for the filling.

Of course, making prophecy believable takes effort. When catering to the fantasy that Bears are extinct and Bulls are inheriting the Earth, it may be necessary to acquire accoutrements of the independently wealthy. (Or, at least, enough trappings to make ‘em drool.) Leading off with “I’ve made so much, my joy comes now in sharing this path to fabulous wealth” can get their attention, but holding it will require more.

Can’t afford a Rollex? Lease on a Rolls Royce too expensive? Don’t worry. There are other cons to float. The basic format is to find a common malady. Broken hearts. Bulging midriffs. An aging computer infrastructure. Then, either fan feelings that the Universe owes us more, or is about to clobber us. Both can cement the relationship.

Keeping hope alive can be a bit tricky, but spreading fear is a piece of cake. It can be done by those lacking social skills. It can be done without a stitch of imagination. Any empty-headed Dingbat can do it. Voilà! Y2K doomsayers!

First, identify those dependent upon computers, but clueless how the little buggers work. Voilà! Senior Administrators, Members of Congress, and Greedy Corporate CEOs everywhere.

Next, spell out an easily remembered Fatal Flaw. “You see, all time sensitive data is stored in a two byte numbers field ...” Go light on explaining exactly how this makes a program incapable of distinguishing between 2000 and 1900. That can lead to embarrassing questions. Instead, emphasize the pride that comes from being a part of a chosen few in the know. Then, toss in a pinch of guilt, for not covering their butts earlier. Congratulations! You’ve got a captive following, deluded as ever.

Before I’m accused of being a Luddite, let me say, considering my very limited means, I’m computerized to the gills. And before this obsession to write for a living abolished all reason, I programmed in six languages (Yep, starting way back in the days of punch cards!) So, I’m fully aware that behind the scenes of Y2K there are some disturbing facts.