This is a blog about life’s little things and we begin with a story.
Not so long ago, in a galaxy very much like the one in which we live now, the good people of Planet Earth nervously eyed the clock as the minutes ran down and time ran out on a rather significant period of time: the second millennium.
While everyone had their own reasons to be wary of the coming of the year 2000, technology had given us all another factor to fear: Y2K, or the Millennium Bug. Most of us who were around at the time will remember the problem well: computers, an invention of the twentieth century, were generally programmed to store the annual date as a two-digit number. When the year changed from ’99 to ’00, researchers said, computers depending on date logic would think that it was 1900 and would crash.
Or so we were told.
Apparently, computer scientists had begun warning of the problem as early as 1984, and by the final months of 1999, it was all we heard about. National governments around the world began preparing their citizens (and their computers) for imminent disaster. Software was frantically updated, supplies frantically purchased, and shelters frantically built. With a simple tick of the clock, the end of the world was at hand.
Logically, the problem should have started at the international date line. So when the Christmas Islands and New Zealand rang in 2000 with no adverse result, citizens of Western Europe and North American breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Then, 2000 moved west. Fireworks lit up Berlin, crowds cheered in London, the crystal ball dropped in Times Square, and…
… nothing happened.
Actually, to be fair, a small number of date-related incidents did occur across the globe. But the triviality of these errors would make anyone laugh when compared to the dire consequences we were all told to expect. Bus ticket machines in two Australian states stopped working. A few websites mistakenly displayed the date as ‘19100.’ And—perhaps worst of all—some slot machines failed at a racetrack in Delaware.
International pandemonium, to be sure.
In the coming weeks, critics would say that the entire Y2K scare had been a phenomenon of mass paranoia. The Wall Street Journal went so far as to call it the hoax of the century. (Apparently they were leaving their bets open on the hoax of the millennium…) And in the ten years that have passed since that time, any mention of Y2K has become a humorous reminder of the little bug that was to topple the world… and didn’t.
Ten years later, what have we learned?
I would say that we still mistakenly see the end of the world around every corner.
Right now, many seem to think that the end of the world as we know it will come as the result of global warming. Of course, scientists in the 1970s warned of the dire threat of global cooling, so perhaps it’s best that in recent months the whole dubious ball of wax has been dubbed ‘climate change.’
For those of you skeptical about the science of that one, there’s always the H1N1 virus (which news media everywhere would love you to think might still make a comeback). But remember avian flu? or SARS? or West Nile? Whatever happened to those?
On top of that, there’s always the possibility that we’ll all be obliterated by ‘forces of evil’ gathering in the Middle East, or North Korea, or perhaps both… The finger ominously hovering over the big red button has apparently moved east.
My goal is not to make light of the threats, real or imagined, that currently face our planet, but only to add a bit of perspective. The end of the world has been predicted for 1666, 1836, 1910, 1982, 2000, and (most recently) 2012, along with countless other dates in between. When each ‘apocalypse’ passes, a retraction is issued (or not) and life goes on as normal.
Are we, perhaps, unhealthily obsessed?
The truth is that if we look for the end of the world in everyday events, we will easily find it. There will always be another threat to diplomacy, another disease, another climate phenomenon, or another technological scare. If we wished to, we could find several good reasons to live every day in fear.
But rather than daily fearing the end of the world as we know it, why not appreciate the fact that every day, the world ‘as we know it’ ends? Every night, we fall asleep as slightly different people than we were when we woke up in the morning. As time goes by, the world does anything but stay the same. At the end of a year, why not chalk up the good alongside the bad, be thankful for how we have grown, and recognize what we ought to end (and begin) tomorrow?
If we recognize Y2K, global warming, swine flu, and all the rest as little reminders that we are not omnipotent—that there are many, many things outside of our control—then perhaps we can also recognize them as distractions from the task at hand: an improvement in the way we treat others and ourselves, an appreciation for friends we know and friends we have yet to meet, or perhaps the simple decision to go where we have always wished to go, to say what we have always dreamed of saying, or to love as we were always meant to love.
Happy New Year!