"Why did we fall for this hype?" e-mailed one member of a Year 2000 online discussion group. "I feel cheated, betrayed, misused, abused, deceived and everything else!"
It's a good question, and it was being asked all over the Internet, and in much of the world. Were we duped or saved?
There were minor equipment failures at a handful of hospitals and nuclear plants. Financial industry employees around the world completed their second day of testing and said they encountered few, if any problems, and anticipate little trouble when U.S. markets opened today.
This after an incalculable drumbeat of alarm, hysteria and wild speculation. For sure, genuine problems had surfaced, and hats off to the planners, programmers and engineers who spent the past few years fixing them. But the reality was wildly divergent from the hysteria that preceded it. If anything, the Y2K obsession suggested just how central technology has become to much of the world, and just how little even the so-called experts really know about it or how it works.
By this morning, it was no longer clear whether Y2K was a miracle or a disgrace.
Friday afternoon, a wave of e-mail and reporters in Australia and New Zealand signalled the fizzling of one of the biggest stories in the history of technology. By Friday night, bored and bewildered TV reporters were broadcasting live from someplace called the Y2K International Co-Operation Center, but they had no news to report, and by midnight, some federal workers could be seen dozing at their terminals. The FAA Control Center in Virginia had giant screens showing thousands of airborne blips moving peacefully to their planned destinations. There were some heart-monitors down in Swedish hospitals, a U.S. Army cash register malfunctioning in Okinawa, and slot machines in Delaware out for a few hours. A spy satellite went on the fritz for awhile.
Otherwise, in an act of spectacular defiance, even heroism, tens of millions of people all over the earth gathered in urban centers to celebrate the new century. They did not stockpile food and water, as they were advised to by many newspapers, TV stations, government agencies, and local Red Cross chapters. They did not hoard cash. Much more than their pundits or elected leaders, they put their faith in technology.
They celebrated the new century with a defiant global outpouring of optimism and faith. As was the case 100 years ago, technology was a central theme of the century change, from the Millenial Dome in England to the techno-themed ferris wheels rotating along the Champs Elysee in Paris. A curious exception to the global celebration was the United States, content to watch it's ball drop in Times Square, a crowded and exuberant but comparatively visionless and primitive national celebration.
The big news may be that people don't really have to rely on bureaucrats and journalists anymore -- a reason, maybe, why they were so calm and happy. More than 6 million people logged onto New Zealand websites to learn for themselves early Friday that the Y2K had arrived without harm or injury. This good news was followed on the Net from East to West all day long.
"Was the threat of technology failure overstated?," asked the New York Times on Sunday, "or did spending hundreds of billions of dollars to fix things avert a catastrophe?"
Most engineers and programmers seemed to agree that there were, in fact, real problems associated with Y2K bugs, and that real trouble had been averted by the billions spent globally to upgrade and de-bug.
But it also seems obvious that Y2K problems were wildly exaggerated, online and off.
Modern media are almost continuously irrational when it comes to covering technology. The Internet has given the off-line world a rolling nervous breakdown, from which it has yet to recover. For much of the past year, TV stations, networks and newsmagazines sounded a steady stream of alarms about Y2K - the very term became a household world.
Last week Wired News, irked by all the greatest -hits lists emerging about the 20th century, offered a refreshing look at a "century of spectacular failure" from the Titanic to World Wars I and II, the Challenger launch and Chernobyl. They called their report "A Century of Spectacular Failure," citing one techno-disaster after another.
It was a healthy antidote to all the heavy breathing. This past century, we were assured by journalists and politicians, was also going to end unhappily, in a nightmare of collapsing programs, off-line banks and utility and transportation programs.
Countless individual humans pulled us back from that supposed abyss. There were no spectacular failures. They got the 21st century off to a great start.
But the biggest Y2K question looms even larger this morning than it did on Friday. Was the Y2K scare real? Was it a catastrophe averted or invented? Jump on in: