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Michael Brownlee's Transformational Y2K Retrospective





by Michael Brownlee
January 31, 2000

Only a month has gone by since 01/01/00 - the day the controversial
"Millennium Bug" threatened to disrupt modern civilization - and already Y2K
seems to have vanished from public consciousness and media attention. Yet
there appears to be much confusion, misunderstanding, and misinformation
about what actually happened, what didn't happen, what is still occurring,
and what might yet occur After devoting the better part of two years of my
life to understanding and responding creatively to this issue (with the bias
that Y2K was never really about Y2K), I've finally attempted to formulate
some very preliminary observations. As briefly as possible, here's my first


There has been a rush to judgment about Y2K. While many of these conclusions
are patently false, misleading, or at best premature, they are nevertheless
being promoted:

* Y2K is over, the problem is solved. There is nothing more to be concerned
about, if there ever was. It might even have been a hoax.

* Y2K was never a crisis. The estimated $200 billion to $1 trillion spent on
Y2K remediation and contingency planning was largely unnecessary.

* The U.S. is to blame for the Y2K problem.

* With Y2K, we have successfully demonstrated that it is reasonable and even
effective to wait until the last possible moment to address critical global

* Government is the only structure that can adequately address global

* The public citizenry is incapable of understanding and making decisions
about technology issues. In fact, they should not be involved.

* In crisis situations, it is necessary to manage and control public
perception of problems in order to prevent panic.

* We can trust that "the powers that be" (governmental and corporate) will
always make decisions that are in the public's best interest; we can
confidently place our lives in their hands.

* Y2K was a technology problem.

* Y2K was a management problem.

* John Koskenin [1] solved the Y2K problem.

* John Koskenin is a good candidate for managing the U.S. response to global



For some, including myself, Y2K appeared as the opportunity of our lifetime,
a moment when society could initiate a much-needed course-correction in our
headlong plunge into the 21st century. While there were many important
benefits that emerged from the Y2K crisis, many significant opportunities
went largely unrealized:

* Y2K did not provide our society a "teachable moment."

* There was virtually no public dialogue or debate regarding Y2K, and no
democratic process.

* No major political leader or celebrity exhibited leadership in the Y2K

* Y2K did not manifest as a carrier wave for social transformation.

* No widespread awakening of consciousness occurred with the dawning of the
Year 2000.

* Authentic community is still missing in most of our human experience.

* Beyond the obvious technological meaning, "interconnectedness" has not
reached mainstream reality. Separation prevails. Y2K did not bring us

* While thousands of heroic and dedicated individuals came forward to be of
assistance in the impending crisis, a coherent grassroots movement for
awareness and preparedness never materialized.

* While the Internet played a seminal role in making immediately accessible
a vast body of developing knowledge about Y2K, and connected a number of
people around the world in a dynamic conversation of exploration and
discovery, this powerful self-organized network of information and insight
was largely ignored by the media, the public, the corporate world, and the

* The public still does not understand the implications of the Y2K crisis.
Mass media never realistically portrayed the realities of the situation.

* Investigative journalism remains virtually silent on the issues of Y2K.

* Consumerism and exploitive commercialization prevail, without adequate
regard for social or ecological resilience, sustainability, or equitability.

* We have no inspiring common vision for the future to guide and inspire us.



Y2K appeared to provide a poignant backdrop for learning lessons that could
be vital to the future of the human species. As Y2K now fades from public
consciousness, these lessons appear to remain unlearned:

* Lack of understanding of interconnectedness and interdependence can have
serious and far-reaching consequences.

* Problems cannot be solved with the level of consciousness that created

* We build our computer systems, as Ellen Ullman has said [2], the same way
we build our cities: over time, without a plan, on top of ruins. While
pervasive, the information infrastructure is still relatively fragile and

* Stirring people to action based on fear of what might happen is
disempowering and ineffective.

* Preparing for the worst and hoping for the best is a fear-based strategy.

* It's prudent to remember the Titanic: Have enough lifeboats onboard and
know how to use them; inspect the rivets; be wary of repeated declarations
of confidence.

* The deep and sweeping changes occurring in our world signal the advent of
chaos, a spontaneously occurring transition phase in which a system suddenly
reorganizes itself into a new form.

* In our seemingly insatiable drive for certainty and comfort, we diminish
our capacity to respond creatively to the radical uncertainty that
accompanies chaos.

* In times of chaos, prediction of the future is nearly impossible.



I do not want to appear negative or despondent here. Far from it. I am
greatly relieved that Y2K did not have the disastrous consequences that some
analysts warned were possible. At the same time, I recognize that the
apparent outcome of the Y2K crisis allows many people to believe that "life
as we know it" will simply continue, that "business as usual" will prevail.

But we need to understand that "life as we know it" is destined to change
swiftly and soon. We will consciously and purposefully change the way we are
living on this planet, or we may face far greater crises than we have yet

It's time for us to consciously choose the future we want to create. As
Ervin Lazlo said, "Our generation is called upon to make the choice that
will decide our ultimate destiny... We are forced to choose, for the
processes we have initiated in our lifetime cannot continue in the lifetime
of our children."

However, the problems or crises we face are not our primary challenge,
because our problems and crises are inherent in our current state of
consciousness. Our challenge in planetary consciousness is to regenerate the
patterns of consciousness in the world community and move them to a new
level. In short, it is time for us to evolve. This will require great vision
and unprecedented leadership in all areas of human endeavor.

Jonas Salk said, "The most meaningful activity in which a human being can be
engaged is one that is directly related to human evolution. This is true
because humans now play an active and critical role not only in the process
of their own evolution but also in the survival and evolution of all living
beings. Awareness of this places upon human beings a responsibility for
their participating in and contribution to the process of evolution. If
humankind would accept and acknowledge this responsibility and become
creatively engaged in the process of metabiological evolution consciously,
as well as unconsciously, a new reality would emerge and a new age would be

Scattered throughout the world, a growing network of world-workers is
emerging, people who are laying the foundation for a quantum leap forward in
human evolution. Like many people who were activated by the possibilities of
Y2K, this is where I now choose to focus my energies, and trust that many
more will follow suit.

Very recently, I had the opportunity to read a most extraordinary book, "The
Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual," by Rick Levine,
Christopher Locke, Doc Searls, and David Weinberger, four of the liveliest
and most r/evolutionary voices to emerge on the Internet. They are kindling
a conversation that could change our world (you can join it by visiting
their website at These outrageous and courageous
authors conclude their manifesto with a vision that is worth sharing:

"We do have a vision of what life could be like if we ever make it through
the current transition. It's hard for some to imagine the Era of Total
Cluelessness coming to a close. But try. Try hard. Because only imagination
can finally bring the curtain down. Imagine a world where everyone was
constantly learning, a world where what you wondered was more interesting
than what you knew, and curiosity counted for more than certain knowledge.
Imagine a world where what you gave away was more valuable than what you
held back, where joy was not a dirty word, where play was not forbidden
after your eleventh birthday. Imagine a world in which the business of
business was to imagine worlds people might actually want to live in
someday. Imagine a world created by the people, for the people not perishing
from the earth forever."

Yes, imagine that. And from our online Y2K experience, we can well imagine
that the Internet will figure prominently in the unfolding of this learning
and growing world.

Finally, I want to say that while Y2K may not quite have been the wake-up
call for our frenzied world that I had anticipated, it has nevertheless been
the context in which many of us have awakened to the reality that we are now
called to contribute thoughtfully, heartfully, and actively to humanity's
unfolding evolution. For that, I am extremely grateful.

If you care to comment on any of these issues, or engage in a dialogue,
please e-mail me. I look forward to hearing from you.



[1] John Koskenin is President Clinton's "Y2K Czar," offically the Chair of
the President's Council on Y2K Conversion, and director of the $50 million
Information Coordination Center in Washington, D.C. Koskenin has said that
his contract with the U.S. and with the world was to "solve the Y2K
problem," and he alleges that's exactly what he did. He is a highly skilled
bureaucratic manager who relishes difficult situations. His website is Some people have seriously suggested that his next
assignment should be global warming.

[2] Ellen Ullman is one of the more articulate and insightful programmers in
the world, author of "Close to the Machine: Technophilia and Its
Discontents," a memoir of her 20-plus years in the industry. She wrote a
compelling article about Y2K for Wired, "The Myth of Order"
( Ullman is also a
frequent commentator on National Public Radio.