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The Dragoons of Cultural Fantasy, Part 4

Dragoons . . .

For instance, many programs used by large institutions were written in COBOL or FORTRAN by programmers when Strom Thurmond was a young man hoping to get elected to Congress. Many of these programmers have gone on to meet their Maker, leaving their legacy behind with woefully inadequate documentation. Even institutions and companies with the foresight to update their programs to state-of-the-art languages attempt to run these programs on computers for which parts are no longer available. We are beginning to see that the Wonders of the Computer Age are far more expensive than presumed. How do we now break the news that the whole kit and caboodle needs to be replaced at the cost of billions of dollars? Simple. We don’t.

Instead, we discover a common enemy on the horizon. A BUG so nasty, so insidiously fiendish, that the very survival of our species is at stake. Also, the urgency with which we must stamp out this BUG is so pressing, there’s absolutely no time for discussion! No time to place blame. No time to add up the costs. We’re in a fight for survival. Stopping to ask questions may result in total destruction. Whoooa! That was close!

But wait a minute. Let’s say for the sake of discussion, the Millennium Bug is as bad as reported. Who you gonna’ call? Computer consultants? Isn’t that a little like asking the son of Howard Hughes to build you a bigger Spruce Goose? The first one hardly got off the ground. Instead of buying the next installment, shouldn’t we be coming to grips with our Digital Dependency?

Guilty If You Did; Guilty If You Didn't
Some of you may have heard the stories about Y2K troubleshooters quitting their jobs and running off to the desert. Supposedly, a grave indicator of just how bad things are. They’re portrayed as getting out while the getting’s good. Of digging in for the final show down. Armed, provisioned, and fantasizing they’re Mel Gibson, they hide in their bunkers awaiting a chance to prove their mettle in Tina’s Thunder Dome.

But maybe, they’re not running away from an un-fixable mess as much as running away from a set-up. They took the job thinking it was about fixing code, but it soon became apparent someone was being groomed as a scapegoat.

Does this mean I think nothing is going to happen? No. Not at all. I’m sure the Millennium Bug will result in one type of chaos: chaos in the courts. Where the defendant won’t be embedded chips, but anyone without a good lawyer. El Niño will be a culprit of the past. Everything now will be blamed on the Y2K Bug. Or more specifically, one’s response to it, or lack thereof. Can’t meet your deadline? Probably, gross negligence on your part. You had warning, but you didn’t update your computer system. Or you did. And a billion lines of hastily written code came back to byte the hand that typed it. Don’t think attorneys haven’t been licking their chops watching computer consultants reap a windfall from past mistakes. There’ll be more than enough culpability to go around.

But how about us little people? Can we avoid chaos? Either way? Let’s say we shine the whole thing on and let it all hang out New Year’s Eve. We’ll feel awful stupid driving home the next morning, blurry eyed, and seeing riots in Safeway’s parking lot. Or say instead, we hunker down at home and wait for the lights to go out. But the TV never stops. The vinyl siding salesmen on the telephone are able to interrupt our dinner. Our freeze-dried dinner. Our Millennium Meal™. The same one we’ll have to eat every night for the rest of the year. And what will we do with the noisy generator? And the cases of batteries under the bed? That’s enough energizing power to keep a pink bunny drumming for another Millennium.

Do you really believe that stockpiling provisions would ensure your survival? If everything falls apart, the sound of a generator or smell of frying bacon would lead the marauding gangs directly to your doorstep. Oh. You’ve thought of that. You’re heavily armed. Right! With about 2000:1 odds, you better be a mighty good shot. I’ll stick to the sign I’m putting in my yard (see page 11). With every house having a cash reserve, it will be good times for looters. As an old farmer from West Virginia once told me, “The best way to protect yourself from thieves is don’t have nothin’ to steal.”

Shouldn’t we see this Millennium Bug as the golden opportunity it is? As a chance to peel off the layers of useless fantasy we’ve collected. Fantasies about Wealth. About Individualism. About Corporate, Transnational Economies. At the least, let’s make our technologies work for us and not the other way around. And let’s finally understand, our survival is dependent on local community. On mutual cooperation. On learning to live with less. A whole lot less. An opportunity like this may not come around for another Millennium.

William P. Benz is an Artist, Writer, and Poet living in North Portland. He Specializes in the Design of Information Filters, the Surfacing of Mental Models, and the Creative Reintegration of Defective WorldViews.