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The Day the Earth Stood Irritated
May 22, 1998 :: Greg Knauss


The Day the Earth Stood Irritated
by Greg Knauss

When the PanAmSat Galaxy IV satellite lost interest in Earth earlier this week and spun out of control, millions of hip-mounted life-lines stopped beeping, buzzing and presenting their owners with cryptic alphanumeric shorthand. Gas pumps stopped processing credit cards. Radio and television transmissions were disrupted. The world failed to end.

Yes, it was annoying. It was inconvenient. But it was also just a preview -- there's a lot more of the same to come.

The Time Without Paging -- three days of incomplete drug deals and gossipless mall-rats -- was just the tiniest example of what will eventually befall the world when the calendar ticks off the final seconds of this tired millennium. While hype about the Year 2000 and all its associated (and inevitable) computer problems has been done to death, real problems do actually exist -- and the temporary death of all those little black boxes is just a small example of their potential.

For the most part, the endless jabbering about Y2K has been limited to either nonchalant pundits waving their hands dismissively or googly-eyed hysterics ranting about the end of civilization. Both archetypes make for good copy, but unrealistic expectations.

More likely, January 1st, 2000 is going to be a lot like the past few days -- irritating, inconvenient, occasionally frustrating, but not nearly the end of the world. Some percentage of systems are going to fail. Some percentage of those will have backup failure. Some percentage of those will affect you. You'll be grouchy. You'll lose some time. But you'll live. Just like you made it through this week, even without getting that important page.

As technology weaves itself into every little corner of our everyday lives, obscure hardware hiccups and software bugs suddenly have all the physical power of a four-lane pile-up on the drive home. With about the same impact. We gawk, we curse, we move on. Not fun, but certainly not fatal. Y2K will probably amount to an extended bad day.

If the millennium really is the end of the word, then the curtain isn't ringing down with a bang or a whimper, but with a million voices, all joined in the cry of the wired future:

"Aw, hell, why doesn't this damned thing work now?"

-- Greg Knauss is an irregular contributor to Stating the Obvious. He has also written for Suck, Fray, After Dinner, Rewired, Soundbitten and TeeVee. He could probably stand to get out more often.



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