As the 1990s drew to a close, there was one boogieman that had been hiding under the bed for decades which began to receive greater and greater amounts of attention. Its name? Y2K. For the uninitiated, the Y2K bug was a problem related to a tiny habit employed by computer coders since the dawn of programming that blossomed into a major issue once it was discovered. Instead of coding in the entire four digits to represent the year of any given date in a piece of software, programmers had instead been using only the last two digits in order to save precious computer memory space. This meant that when the calendar turned the last page of the 20th century and hit the year 2000, the majority of software out in ‘the wild’ would think it was actually the year 1900.
At the time this had become standard operating procedure, few people gave
thought to the fact that one day in the future those two missing digits would come into play. However, as time went on this bug became so ensconced in many different programming languages and software that by the 1990’s it had reached a ubiquity that spelled disaster. Major banks, credit card companies and even the government were faced with reams upon reams of code that would be transported back 100 years into the past, grinding operations to a halt and threatening major financial, military and public systems. Not only that, but a huge number of personal computer programs were affected as well, with operating systems and video games alike vulnerable to possible data corruption.
Response to the Y2K bug ran the gamut from full-on survivalist panic to repeated assurances that everything would be fine. Huge multinational corporations hired armies of programmers to go through their existing code with a fine tooth comb and weed out any possible trouble spots that could cause unexpected errors at the end of the fateful decade. Governments around the world issued guidelines and directives to help their citizens ensure that their personal information and access to services was protected past the turn of the millennium. Lastly, but perhaps most visible in the public eye, a sizable Y2K disaster subculture appeared on the internet, populated by extremists advising people to convert all of their wealth into gold bullion to avoid the impending economic collapse and then move to a cabin in the woods where they could take refuge from the lawlessness and chaos that was to accompany the total collapse of society.
So what exactly happened when the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve, 1999? Well, if you are reading this, then you already know the answer: a whole lot of nothing. Nada. Zilch. There were, of course, reports from around the world of minor banking errors, websites that were briefly down and calendar programs on personal computers that became essentially useless. Planes did not fall from the sky due to faulty air traffic control systems, supertankers did not collide at sea and no nukes were mistakenly detonated in their silos. While the hardcore believers cowered in their holes in the ground chewing on beef jerky, the Y2K bug turned out to be so much humbug. Whether this was a result of the estimated 300 billion dollars spent by governments and organizations around the world to nip the issue in the bud before it could explode in every direction, or whether it was simply because the ‘problem’ had been completely blown out of proportion, the world will never know.
Want more Y2K? Then check out these Y2K themed videos including commercials, animated shorts, and Daily Show clips.
Toys of Y2K: Yes, the world’s electronic panic attack even produced a few cute & cuddly collectibles including stuffed Y2K bugs & bears.