Remembering Y2K

HiTM brings you a selection of the best of the Y2K (Year 2000) panic and its aftermath – our favourite New Years Eve in history (you might remember it as the one that was supposed to bring about an apocalypse).


On 30 December 1999 the New York Times published an Op Ed that predicted

Years from now, historians will be fascinated by the combination of arduous planning, breathless hype and stubborn indifference that have gone into preparations for the computer glitch known as the Y2K bug. By now it seems clear to experts who have followed the saga that when the new year arrives tomorrow night, the most dire predictions of crises in computer systems in this country will not come to pass. Air travel and the banking system are expected to continue uninterrupted, and there will probably not be widespread power failures. Americans may need to brace for inconveniences and localized problems, but the worst potential disasters are expected overseas.

As almost everyone knows, the Y2K snag is expected to occur because some computers may shut down or misfire when their internal clocks fail to recognize the year 2000. Many of the preparations have been extremely impressive. American businesses and government have spent an estimated $100 billion to get ready for Y2K problems, and tens of thousands of Americans will be working this weekend to cope with crises as they unfold. The federal government reports that Medicare and Social Security payments will go out, and defense readiness has been checked and rechecked.

This piece sums up pretty well the paranoia (and mockery of that paranoia) that characterised New Year’s Eve 1999, and the final days of the past millennium.

As the NY Times piece suggests, it wasn’t only fringe crazies that worried about Y2K. Governments, including the Australian Government, took the threat posed by the dawn of the year 2000 very seriously, appointing Senator Ian Campbell as “the Minister responsible for the bug watch”. You can see the transcript of an ABC interview with the Minister here about what the Government was doing to prevent disaster.

Likewise the BBC considered Y2K a very newsworthy subject, and its coverage of New Years Eve 1999 included a Millennium Bug Watch.

Of course the material created by fringe groups is the most interesting extant sources we have about the crisis. In the USA Survivalists created instructional videos like this one telling you all you needed to know to “prepare your family for Y2K

Entreprenuers took advantage of the panic to hawk goods that people would need if the worst of the Y2K prophesies would be fulfilled.

What happened when it all came to naught? In the aftermath of the Y2K anticlimax, the New York Times published this piece that reported on exactly what survivalists did with their hoards of kerosene and canned food that they’d bought and stored in anticipation of the worst case Y2k scenario.

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