The end is near!
Or perhaps more accurately, the end seems always to be right around the corner … and it was always thus. Astronomer John of Toledo predicted the end would occur in September 1186. London astronomers foresaw an Earth-destroying deluge on February 1, 1524. Jacques Bernoulli forecast the arrival of a massive comet that would end things on May 19, 1719. American psychic John Ballou Newbrough spread the word about our impending demise in 1947. More recently, the Y2K problem – a scare for the new millennium – cast a spotlight on fears about technology and its impact on mankind.
The problem was that a huge number of computer programs used 2 digits, rather than 4, to identify the calendar year. This generated serious and justifiable concern that when the calendar changed from 1999 to 2000, computers would interpret 00 as 1900, resulting not only in computer glitches and confusion, but potential chaos within crucially important systems.
In the years leading up to Y2K, countless books, magazine articles, DVDs, and other media were published and distributed in order to provide the public with the information necessary to survive the impending crisis. One of these books was Time Bomb 2000, a collection of worst-case-scenarios illustrating the potentially disastrous impact of the “millennium bug” on the general population, and providing sound advice on what to do if things really did go wrong.
Interest in Y2K propelled this book to the New York Times business best seller list. Y2K’s potentially deleterious effect on utilities, banking, transportation, the government, the food supply – everything the average person takes for granted – was covered. If even half of the disasters had actually occurred, we would indeed have faced a major catastrophe.
Historians may debate whether the Y2K scare was the catalyst for preemptive action that prevented such a crisis, or whether there was no actual justification for alarm to begin with.
In the end, nothing too terrible happened at 12:00 a.m. on January 1, 2000. Millions were able to breathe easy, and continue to party like it was 1999.