Poor Art Bell. He was so sure we were headed for a major catastrophe on
January 1 that the planet's survival must have left him bewildered. I
think he almost believed it. Those of you who go to bed early may not
recognize the name of Art Bell, the all night talk show host. I'm a
night owl, and I have found that five minutes of Art around midnight
puts me to sleep faster than any drug anyone has invented.
I really hadn't intended to mention the phrase Y2K again; I know we are
all tired of it. But some funny things have happened and I can't
resist. Mostly I can't resist thinking about Art. He spent six months
stirring up his callers with fear of everything from an alien invasion
to destructive earthquakes and urging everyone to accumulate huge
stockpiles of food and water. It was not unlike the days of World War
2 when we were being urged to dig holes in our back yards for air raid
shelters. Being a practical man, however, Art covered his bases by
scheduling an all night show on January 1 -- just in case. I caught
the last 15 minutes of it and his guest was explaining that he did not
mean that the catastrophic earthquake he had forecast for California
was due exactly on January 1, but at some time in the next two
years. Anyway, the planet survived very nicely, thank you.
The new millennium rolled in and for 24 hours we all watched it --
starting in New Zealand, then on to Sydney, then to the monks in Japan
ringing a huge bell, watching the fireworks in China, past the pyramids
in Egypt, down the Champs Elysees and on to Times Square and then to us
here in the wild west and on out to sea. Josef Joffe, the German
foreign policy writer watching from Munich commented, "It looked like a
global audience doing the wave."
January 1, 2000 was not without incidents, though. Somewhere in
Delaware 600 slot machines died at midnight and the happy celebrants
had nothing to do but get drunk. I heard that on the radio and can't
The first millennium baby born in Silicon Valley was to receive $500 in
high-tech stocks. Hope they didn't name him or her Nasdaq.
A man in upstate New York got billed for $91,250 for a late video
because the store's computer thought he'd kept it out for 100 years.
I'm glad I returned that last movie on time.
A man in Boston visited his dentist Monday, but when the secretary tried
to schedule a follow-up appointment the computer system crashed. Oh
well, mabe he'll never get his bill.
A lot of people are saying that the whole scare was a hoax. Wrong.
Actually, a major technological crisis was prevented because thousands
of people world-wide spent several years searching through billions of
lines of programming code, some of it decades old. Massive investments
of money were made. The United States government alone spent $8.4
billion to fix glitches in computers that handle everything from Social
Security checks to the air traffic system. That reminds me; best call
the bank and find out whether my Social Security check got deposited!
Kathy Hahn, director of Hewlett-Packard's year 2000 planning in Palo
Alto filed her first report without incident at 3:45 am. She noted that
the lack of problems were a rewarding finish to nearly three years of
hard work in preparation. "It feels like I've been pregnant for two and
a half years. I'm feeling a great sense of relief."
Much ado about nothing? Hardly. We have learned the very expensive
lesson that the technological world is still subject to human error.
But we had twenty-four hour period in which , as U. N. Secretary
General Kofi Annan
commented, "We all celebrated each other's diversity without anyone
saying mine is better than yours, when individual cultures were being
globalized rather than being homogenized, a sort of global style show
where everyone's roots were displayed. For one brief shining moment
there was a pulling together all over the planet. Somehow, we have to
find a way to build on this."