The Glitch That Bonded Us
Not since the moon landing 30 years ago has the world come together and held its breath while watching such a great technological event: the squashing of the Y2K bug.
As the first minutes of Year 2000 rolled across the time zones, one could almost hear a collective sigh of relief - along with the New Year's revelry - as computers running the world's infrastructure were able to read the year "00" and not mark it as 1900.
Planes stayed in the air, nuclear plants hummed, phones rang, elevators worked, ATMs dispensed cash. One of mankind's biggest mistakes was turned into one of its finest hours.
This giant glitch-repair - costing upwards of $500 billion - was not the biggest nonevent ever or the dog that didn't bark. It was a worldwide challenge met by people pulling together for the common good. It makes you think of the possibilities: Can the world now solve such global problems as illiteracy, AIDS, and hunger?
Was the Y2K problem overhyped? Sure. There were Chicken Littles aplenty and much overspending.
No doubt many a company techie used the threat to make a case for all new computers. Much of the media played to the fear of social chaos (concerns over Y2K were a New Year's party pooper). And critics point to poor countries where little was done but still all systems are go.
But enough snafus did take place, especially in the computer-savvy United States, to justify the work of hundreds of thousands of programmers. The most serious one was a breakdown in the Pentagon's satellite-intelligence system. On a lighter note, someone at a Korean video shop was charged $7,000 because the computer thought his rental was 100 years late.
And it's still too soon for an all-clear signal. Many small businesses may malfunction in the weeks ahead. And computers have another date - the odd leap year of February 29, 2000 - to contend with.
But the better-safe-than-sorry remediation has paid off, with added dividends of more productivity from new computers, a healthy skepticism toward technology and those who run it, and a unique global bonding over reducing a global risk.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society