Remembering Y2K: A “Survivor’s” Tale

Hard to believe just how fast ten or twelve years can pass.  Of course, they’ve been very useful years for many of us.

Those of you who weren’t really paying attention back in 1998, or there abouts, perhaps won’t recall the very real and significant concerns that were raised over the so-called “Y2K Glitch” or “millenium bug”.  In effect, these concerns reflected the inability of the world’s computing systems (both software and hardware) to accommodate the date change-over from the 1900’s to the 2000’s. 

Such a simple thing, really: the lack of foresight and planning that had, due to the great expense and difficulty of handling only two extra digits worth of data in the earliest days of computing, set up the world’s financial and energy distribution systems (to name but two) for massive failure.  

World-wide, spending related to fixing the Y2K “bug” was estimated to be in the range of $1.5 trillion in 1999 alone, the last year to deal with the problem.  Some post-Y2K accounting estimates indicate that perhaps $3.6 trillion was expended overall.  As Grandpa used to say, “back in my day, that was real money”. 

So critical were these efforts that the Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB), the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB), and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) had not only directed that all government organizations and listed companies publicly report the steps being taken to address the problem, but that all related costs be “expensed”, rather than capitalized.

Of course, these accounting requirements were intended to ensure some measure of transparency, to quell panic, to mitigate potential liability claims, and to ensure financial stability in the markets.   Most major companies and organizations took great pains to comply.  (See Cisco’s statement here.)  

And, despite all of that effort, what everyone really wanted to see in these public disclosures was, essentially, this:  If all else fails, what are your contingency plans? 

I’m taking the pains of recounting these stories to underscore the simple truth that nobody really knew what might happen.  Oh, sure, there were “doomsdayers” on one side of the debate and “pollyannas” on the other.  As it turned out, of course, the “pollyannas” were more-or-less right, allowing for the rather significant preventive efforts expended by every major government and corporation on the planet.

Personally, I’m inclined to put that “win” directly in the “dodged a bullet” category, a distinction that is rather meaningful.  Some will always walk away from such a near-miss and say, “why worry”.  Others will learn a very different lession, “next time we might not be so lucky”. 

You might guess which lesson I took away from that.  Of course, I had no real assurance how the Y2K drama might unfold.  As it happens, my wife and I did take what we believed to be reasonable precautions at the time, the first laying up of some minimum food stores and having some cash on hand. 

The important thing, however, is that it began what might be called a “learning process” that began with actually thinking about self-sufficiency and preparedness.  We were young enough (and poor enough) that there wasn’t a great deal that we could do at the time.  We lived in an apartment, for one thing.  And, there simply wasn’t a great deal of time to do all that much.

Again, the important thing is that we actually took those first steps on what has become a rather important journey.  It forced us to consider, in a “best case / worst case” sense, just how we wanted to be living:  how dependently,  how deliberately, how effectively.  In the end, it led us to a process of making choices that have enhanced our lives immensely.

So, OK, we’ve now had more than ten years to travel down that path.  We moved to the country, got a dog (or three), planted a few fruit trees and a garden, built a barn -sort of, fitted out a shop, learned to hunt, saved a bit more money, and made a life – one we might hope is a bit more satisfying and secure than the one we had in 1998.  The point, really, is that we didn’t dig a bunker in the woods and neither did we buy a condo in some high-rise in the city.   

It’s really, really hard to look back at Y2K from this possibly more perilous future and not be enormously grateful for that “wake up call”.  It’s why even kindergarden classes bother with “fire drills”.  It’s why we used to tell our children stories like “The Ant and the Grasshopper”.  There’s are important truths embedded in such fables. 

It’s my hope that, today, we’ll not be so full of our own (or mankind’s) self-importance to have forgotten just how easily we can lose whatever “treasures” we’ve been striving for and “storing up” here on this earth.  However hard we might have worked over this past decade, it would all be for naught if, at the same time, we ignored the biggest underlying truth:  We live at God’s mercy and (it might be hoped) in his service. 

But, there you go, that’s the real benefit of deciding to live more deliberately.  Happy trails.

Harry Tuttle     


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