The Common Good
March-April 1999

Are You Y2K Ready?

by Ed Spivey Jr. | March-April 1999

Or did you think Y2K was another Calvin Klein perfume, the kind promoted by pouty models who look like all they want from life is more heroin?

Or did you think Y2K was another Calvin Klein perfume, the kind promoted by pouty models who look like all they want from life is more heroin? (Apocalyptic aside: Wouldn't it be great if Jesus came back in a plaid sports jacket and green tie and made those pretenders smell their own magazine ads? Ah, sweet justice.)

To update you, Y2K is geek speak for "Year 2000," which loosely translated from the original Latin means, "nothing will work." Or, as Confucius warned several hundred years ago, "Buy batteries."

What it really means—according to the few experts who haven't already fled to underground bunkers in Montana—is that at midnight on December 31, anything that has a computer chip could fail, since it won't recognize the double zero date (which, coincidentally, was my nickname on prom night).

Got a computer? Use it quick, it's gonna fail. Own a car made after 1980? Pull over. Did you get one of those Furby things last Christmas? Come January 1, it thinks it's Barbie. And that could get ugly.

Are you wearing a pacemaker? Ouch.

Yes, the year 2000 is scaring a lot of people, and not just because, according to religious experts on late night cable television, the Lord is coming back with His terrible swift sword and a few thousand avenging angels. No. It's worse than that, since most of us would rather deal with avenging angels than a hard drive failure. At least with angels you can swat at 'em with rolled up newspapers. But when your computer goes down you just sit there and whimper.

The biggest fear is that the nation's electrical grid will malfunction, leaving everyone without power (except for survivalist cults who have their own generators and huge smiles on their faces, since it turns out they were right all along).

In the meantime, federal officials have assured us there is no reason to panic, and specifically denied that the nation's power grid would be affected by the Y2K glitch. They also denied that the bulges in their pockets were from the batteries they just bought.

It doesn't help that governments have been giving false assurances for thousands of years. Like when officials in Pompeii said not to worry, the lava is under control. Or when Mongolian elders reported that their meeting with Genghis Khan went well, and that they were confident his army would detour around their defenseless little hamlet.

In fairness, governments can often act decisively in a crisis. When disaster strikes within our own borders, U.S. officials have been known to quickly marshal the vast resources of our nation and rush into stricken areas to say, "There, there. There, there." (But only if TV news crews are present.)

Of course, the blame for this big computer mess lies with one man: Richard Nixon.

Well, not really. But it still feels good to say that. Actually the problem goes back to the early 1960s when computers were first being invented. Reportedly, the technicians didn't have enough time to fully develop computer memory capacity because they had to go home and hose off their carports. Guys did that a lot in the '60s. My dad hosed off the carport almost every day, presumably because some unseen small-town fungus would accumulate on the concrete each night.

But in his defense, the 1960s was a wacky time for everyone. The Russians put a dog in space. And then we put up a monkey. And then the Russians put up another dog. In a sad footnote to those strange days, one young man became so confused that he actually believed his name was Englebert Humperdink.

And shortly after that, Republicans started impeachment hearings, which pretty much brings us to the present time. (And speaking of Republicans, what's with Henry Hyde's powdered wig? I thought when the English rounded up all the Americans and put them on the Mayflower they vowed never to do another thing English again, not including muffins. But there's Henry Hyde looking like.... What? It's not a powdered wig? Oh.)

Anyway, a few months from now—while we're watching the big ball drop on Time Square, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Disney Co.—our bedside clocks will click over to 00 and the alarm might not go off for a thousand years. So you'll be REALLY late for work, resulting in the as-yet-unborn descendant of your boss asking you, "Where the heck have you been, Mr. Sleepy Head!? By the way, you don't look so good."

Here at SOJOURNERS we are determined not to be caught off guard by Year 2000 problems. So everyday we practice screaming, "My computer! My computer!" while running through the halls trying to keep our candles from blowing out.

To test your readiness for the Year 2000, which of the following should you do?

a) Be confident that the technology that controls three-fourths of our modern infrastructure will transition easily into the next century?

b) Hahahahahahaha!

c) Write your congressional representative urging him or her (okay, him) to press for Y2K solutions? Of course, your congressperson won't be in the office since he's busy stockpiling bottled water and toilet paper.

d) Stockpile bottled water and toilet paper.

If you answered e) Flashlights, flashlights, flashlights, you'd be right, although prayer may be our only real hope. And as the Bible assures us, wherever two or more are gathered, God is present. (Although, with groups of 15 or more a small gratuity is expected. Hey, even God has expenses. And probably a computer, too. How else could the Almighty keep track of our sins?)

Maybe there's a bright side to this Y2K thing after all.

EDSPIVEYJR. is art director of Sojourners.

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