| IBM sent the market into another one of it's
mini-tail-spins today with their gloomy announcement about Y2K fears
affecting next quarter profits. In my mind, this is a perfect example of
the real Y2K problem: fear itself (to paraphrase President Franklin D.
Roosevelt). The major threat posed to corporations and the public by
the change in date has everything to do with human nature, and very little
to do with computer hardware.
Will power grids poop out? Will banks
go bankrupt? Will elevators rapidly de-elevate at midnight on Jan
1st? You can bet your bottom dollar some just might, just like some
of them do on any other night across the world. But will there be
any serious repercussions from that date change in computers and
computer-controlled hardware? Very unlikely. As you all know,
the banking industry passed the first stage of the Y2K problem with flying
colors about 2 years back when the expiration dates on credit cards rolled
over to 00. They put some effort into it, and no problems we know of
occurred at all.
On top of this, most critical computer
functions outside of banking and finance are not date-locked. It
makes no difference if the date reads 1900, 2000 or 2100. The date stamp
on your document or spreadsheet will be wrong. Sounds a tab short of Armageddon
to me. Computers glitch, and get mis-programmed all the time,
without bringing civilization to it's knees. But human nature, like
the panic that immediately preceded the Great Depression earlier this
century, can bring our economy to a screeching halt.
Every one of the Y2K doom reports we've
seen quietly mentions human nature in one way or another as the source of
serious Y2K problems. But people don't want to hear that they might be the
source of the impending trouble, it's more popular to blame
hardware. Yet it will be the stock-selling habits of human beings
around the year change that threaten the economy, not the date change
within computers. If people realize it's an arbitrary date system we
invented, and it's just like any other New Year, everything will be
fine. If panic sets in on Wall Street, and that panic telegraphs
around the World's Stock Markets, we could have an economic
disaster. But it won't have anything to do with computers.
Just watch, on January 1st, Y2K doomsayers
will be scrapping the bottom of the barrel to try and come up with
examples of serious problems that occurred, just to save face. By
February, everyone will have forgotten about Y2K, and the media will be
looking for some other gloom and doom topic to boost ratings.
These Y2K computer errors are as likely to show up
on January 1st as any we've heard so far:
Home PC: "Fatal Error: It is only the year of
our Lord 1900, and computers won't be invented for another 40 years. Try
ATM machine: "We are sorry, your account
won't open for another 99 years."
In-Flight announcement: "Fasten your
seatbelts, and get into crash positions.... Does anyone back there know
how to fly a plane that doesn't know what year it is?"
Microsoft announcement: "Microsoft Introduces
Windows 1900, THE Operating System for the next Millennium!"