Y2K is very hard to come to terms with. Each of us who encounters it, dances around it for quite a while before figuring out what to do with it. Often we experience months of roller-coastering in and out of intense anxiety. Those of us who see Y2K as an opportunity may find ourselves going especially high and low. The unconfrontability of Y2K makes it awkward to talk about with those who don't share our understanding of the problem. Some people will just brush it off, to our intense frustration. If someone was unaware of the threat, we may feel like we're messing up their lives by waking them up to it. And they may turn away from the subject (or us), or make fun of it (or us). And, if we want to motivate them to DO something about it in their communities, we often find they have been sent into a spin by their fear and confusion. It may take quite a while before they get their "Y2K sea legs" and can finally function in the face of such an unsettling future.
Also Dynamic Dialogue (Y2K Roles), Y2K Open Sentences Practice and Fear and Empowerment Work
The Year 2000 problem is the most peculiar problem we've ever faced.
One can describe it in a few simple statements. One can easily state the
unacceptable consequences of failure to fix the problem. One can even demonstrate
the failure of our systems to handle the year 2000, and yet people continue
to fail to act.
Here, without hype or exaggeration, is the problem in a nutshell:
The computer applications upon which we depend are broken.
The deadline -- January 1st, 2000 -- is fixed and unavoidable.
The computer industry has a poor reputation for delivering systems on time.
One would think, if you could prove these three statements, that all rational people would then act to avoid the obvious consequences of failure.
Are the systems broken? BT, NatWest, Barclays Bank, Midland Bank, Shell, etc., etc., would answer yes, if you took the time to ask them. They're all spending hundreds of millions of pounds to fix the problems they've discovered in their systems. Anyone claiming that the Year 2000 problem is not real has an obligation to explain why these companies are spending money on a nonexistent problem.
[To see the rest of this article, which tells who in each organization needs to be put to work on this problem in order to get the most progress in solving it (which is not the subject of this page, but is useful information), click here. ]
In King Lear the fool says "Only one in 20 can smell the one who
What I am calling the "social cognition" about y2k is fascinating and
distressing. By social cognition I mean the way society comes to know what is
important for it.
The other day and I was riding on the Metroliner to New York and my seat mate
was reading technical magazines from the media industry. I asked him if there
was discussion among his colleagues of the year 2000 problem. "You mean that
computer thing? I'm not interested in computers." He would have continued to
read his magazine, but I persisted. "It looks like it's going to be quite a mass," I
said. He looked at me quizzically, listen to me as I got rather impassioned,
shook his head, and returned to reading, all these magazines about the technical
aspects of television satellites, international coordination , the use of the Internet
for multimedia purposes, and of course articles about Turner and Murdoch.
Computers are boring and people can feel that it's not their realm or not their
business, but is that enough to account for the way we get brushed off by
raising the y2k issue? Or is the more, much more to it? I am working on what I
like to think of as a kind of social psychoanalysis: getting the story, following
the thread, looking for awkwardness and anxt, in conversations about the issues.
On the ride back later that night my seat mate was a woman who is a high level
executive in an insurance company. I asked her the same question. "We have a
good team working on that and they tell me there is no problem. I am much
more concerned with our Medicare and Medicaid policies. It's not an issue for us.
Besides, our programs are so old and so filled with problems and inability to talk
to each other that y2k (she used the word that way) couldn't make any difference.
Maybe y2k will just help clear them out."
That the systems are old and full of holes might make them more vulnerable to
y2k and thus a threat to the company. What can account for her logic? Perhaps
fatigue with the old systems and the childish delight that the damn things might
just all fail. At the end of our conversation I felt that she was slightly perplexed,
slightly excited, and slightly disturbed, but she will probably recover. Yet she
will read new y2k articles with a little more attention.
Neither of these people asked me anything about why was concerned or what I
Between those two train rides I had dinner in New York with the mother of a
grade school classmate of mine. She is in her '80s and I have not noticed any
change in her in 20 years. "So Douglass, what are you doing now?" I talked
briefly about the new company Shakespeare and Tao and then said I had gotten
very involved in the year 2000 problem. "You mean that thing about
computers? They can fix that can't they?" I said that it looked to me like a mass
and added three or four sentences about why. " Douglass I am very absent by
this. I can see it. The problems in the cities and people not knowing what to do.
And you know I am angry. I am angry at my business friends for not telling me.
And this is very bad housekeeping that they have been doing. I am sitting here
thinking about what I must do, not to help you, because you are trying to help
us and its everybody. Who shall I talk to among those I know? You know, I
will stay up all night thinking about this." I have never talked to anyone who
got it quicker then she did. Experience with the stock market crash and the
depression, with World War II, with being an immigrant, having had a father in
the movie business, her financial support for politicians, gave her that frame for
seeing things that can be a threat to society and friends.
But I don't think these are enough to explain the differences. I believe people
have come to rely on technology as an alternative world to the human:. Our
bodies are much more a symbol added to technology and the underway around.
The idea of that everything can be fixed is part of our deep belief. Conversation
with a good friend clarified this for me. Our near total belief in things like
money, gross national product, the sanctity of jobs, the free market, the
invisible hand, can be seen, if we look at our society with the eye of an
anthropologist, to be basically, fundamentally, profoundly religious. From this
perspective we can say that we have been living in one of the great ages of faith
in history. From our commuting, our coffee breaks, our mail-order catalogs, our
insurance forms and the general pattern of daily live, we can say this is one of
the most highly ritualized societies in history. To question all this by
suggesting y2k makes a mess of it raises profound anxiety.
Perhaps at some level people know they have accommodated their life to this
proposition and they sense that it might fail, that they have made a fundamental
and brutal mistake. This realization could be touching on a profound core of rage
towards both the authority and the self , towards the managers to whom they
gave allegiance and towards the workers on whom they have been dependent.
And for those who gave jobs and consumption in exchange for power and
technology, the fear that they might lose it -- the status, the market leading
charisma, the sense that riding the bull market is just too much if it turns out to
be the collapse of a civilization. People jumped out of Windows in '29 for
There is some real confusion in all this. When the programmer is programming
he or she is probably feeling that this is an abstract system of symbols
mechanically interconnected. The logic is tight like the gears of o'clock. But a
clock is read by a person who then acts. The computer program is connected
directly to machines or markets, making "decisions". By taking the person out
of the loop strange consequences follow. The simple kind of judgment, such as
when it's important to put your foot on the break and override the highway
cruising speed control , is missing. Because humans read clocks and then acted,
the interaction between the machine and lived time was just intuitive and
simple. But when we took the person out of the loop and let the computer talk
directly to the machines, or to finances, we set in motion something rather odd
which by calling it a "bug" hides the reality of the sorcerer's apprentice
confusion we have sown for ourselves. Fantasia Indeed. Bergson's concepts of
time we dogmatically ignored, and we treated time like it was in fact the clock.
I believe human beings have come to treat
technology as the source of pleasure for their bodies and souls, and they have
come to be suspicious of other humans as sources of pain and let down , or
worse. The deep irony is that we have embraced cold technology while looking
for the warmth of affection and security. In y2k might be touching on a great
reservoir of betrayal and anger.