Two decades ago, on the eve of Dec. 31, 1999, the developed world prepared for the widespread chaos that was expected to ensue as soon as the clocks clicked over to the year 2000. People worried about Y2K for years, their concern intensifying in the final months leading up to the split second when computers all over the world would, allegedly, cease to operate properly, causing havoc in the power grid, banking, air travel, and other computerized systems.
I mentioned Y2K to our teenage daughters the other day. They were incredulous, their disbelief bordering on that they display when I remind them that I grew up with a party line telephone shared with four other families. I told the kids that the government formed a council to assist companies and municipalities in Y2K readiness efforts. I said that billions of people all over the world went to bed on New Year’s Eve 1999 fully expecting to wake up on Jan. 1, 2000, to something ranging between minor computer glitches and total global demise.
“How come everyone was so worried about total global demise from computers 20 years ago,” asked one daughter, “but now that we’re actually facing it due to climate change, billions of people aren’t lying awake at night worrying about it?” Touchè, kiddo.
My husband and I were lucky enough to be ignorant of the Millennium Bug’s impact (which many of you will recall was reassuringly anticlimactic) until a few days into January 2000. Working for Outward Bound, we were almost always in the field for New Year’s Eve. In Maine, that meant dogsledding, skiing and winter camping. Dusk came at about 4 p.m., and by 7 p.m. camp would be snug, humans and canines would be fed, and we struggled to find a reason to stay awake for the waning hours of the century. We were probably sacked out by 9 p.m. — if not earlier — on the final night of 1999.
When we all awoke on Jan. 1, 2000, the sun rose on schedule, the dogs barked for their breakfast, and a stiff breeze blew feathery crystals of snow in swirls on the lake ice. Nothing in the natural world had changed with Y2K, and a few days later we learned that very little in the computer-dependent world had changed either. Still, that brief period of mild uncertainty served as another reminder that we never know what the coming year will hold, and which one might herald irrevocable change. But on that New Year’s Day 2000, we turned our faces toward the sun, embraced the day, and kept moving forward.
Happy New Year, all.