– Edmund DeJesus, 1998
Y2K is the prediction with a difference. For starters, there’s no single, triggering quote to look back on and no single person to which it can be attributed. Sure, BYTE magazine editor Edmund DeJesus delivered the alarmist words above in 1998, but he was just one of a sea of voices predicting turn of the millennium doom.
No, Y2K was instead a group effort. Alarmists in the media, government and academia warned that computers and digital equipment would go haywire once “99” became “00,” triggering a global calamity of monstrous proportions. They were ultimately way off base, but the far less bombastic notion behind that warning wasn’t.
The first such warning sounded in the dinosaur days of the 1970s, ’round about the time Led Zeppelin smacked the music world with Stairway to Heaven. Bob Bemer, a veteran tech-head and one of the fathers of the ASCII computing “language,” realized way back then that recording calendar years in a two-digit format was fine – until you went around to 00. His strenuous calls for action went unheeded for decades, until the mid-90s when the potential for disaster was seriously revisited.
By 1995, we had books published on the subject (Murray and Murray’s “Computers in Crisis,” released in best Orwellian fashion in 1984), the first generally acknowledged references to the now-infamous Y2K acronym (in 1995 emails and online discussion forums), and the beginnings of widespread dread. During the next five years, governments, corporations, and the public ramped up for what, to many, remained a bit of a mystery. Could a mere calendar rollover really cause essential services to grind to a halt, airplanes worldwide to drop from the skies like gassed mosquitoes, and missile silos to unintentionally launch their payloads?
As it turned out, no. Indeed, there were precious few critical mishaps. But did the Y2K threat peter out because it was incredibly overblown in the first place, or because so many measures were taken – some estimates put the global cost of Y2K “resolution” at a mountainous $300 billion-plus – to thwart it? ‘Tis likely a question that will remain unanswered.
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