Ten years ago, at the changing over of centuries, the civilized world was whipped into a complete panic by the looming fear of a massive, widespread computer failure. The so-called Y2K crisis was caused by the realization that when the years changed over, computers programs using only two digits to represent the year would go all the way back to 00 (representing 1900).
This resulted in a fear that major computer systems, like those found in banks, military installations and even airliners, would go haywire and cause a severe global incident. Fortunately, this turned out to be very, very wrong. All the problems were either fixed beforehand or simply didn't cause any of the major anticipated issues.
Computer shutdowns or not, I bet you remember it.
Think about all the fear this simple date shift caused. People thought the money they had tied up in banks would go up in smoke. Some thought that airplanes would start falling out of the sky, or that nuclear missiles would go off without warning and plunge the world into darkness.
Personally, I don't recall being all that concerned about whether my computer would work on January 1st, 2000, or if the world would be a totally changed place the next day. In fact, I think I was more worried about beating the next gym leader in Pokemon Red on my Gameboy Pocket. At the time, that accomplishment actually seemed a little more earth-shattering than a potential technological apocalypse. Of course, I still remember all the talk, the hype and the hysteria.
With a decade's worth of new problems behind us now, it's still pretty curious to me that we worry about the things least likely to happen, and yet things like the buildup of greenhouse gases still manage to go relatively unchecked. If we spent half as much time anticipating problems like renewable energy, climate shift, terrorism or serious financial crises, the first ten years of this century may have been a bit more productive and prosperous. Instead, we spent the last moments of the 20th century worrying that humanity would be brought down by a couple missing digits.
So here's a proposal, the next time we're worried about the world ending on New Years, say...in 2012, let's remind ourselves that these giant perceived problems usually turn out to be nothing at all, and that our energies would be better spent solving problems that actually exist. What do you remember most about the Y2K bug?