SECRET STRATEGY REVEALED FOR THE YEAR ZERO; WHAT WILL WE BE SCARED OF NEXT?
by EDWARD CONE
News & Record
December 2, 1999, ALL EDITIONS
With just a few weeks left until the dreaded Y2K, I have mapped out my own personal preparedness strategy: an aspirin and a glass of water before bed to mitigate that nasty New Year's Day hangover.
Yes, I will be drinking on New Year's Eve, if only to forget the Y2K hype that continues to percolate in the popular culture. As this column has been saying since last December, the world will not end at the stroke of midnight, although if you've put your life savings into canned goods, you might wish it had.
A much-overlooked fact here is that there won't even be a single, dramatic ''stroke of midnight'' to usher in Y2K. That only happens in the fairy-tale world inhabited by Cinderella and, to judge by its wacky Y2K coverage, the Rhinoceros Times. By the time the ball drops in Times Square, midnight will have come and gone in much of the (real) world, including most of the anticipated trouble spots.
Here's a plan for the faint of heart: Before you go out on New Year's Eve, turn on CNN. If you see footage of Tokyo in flames or mobs looting the capitals of Europe, tell the baby-sitter you'll be home a little early. Otherwise, relax.
I blame a lot of the fear over Y2K on the stroke-of-midnight angle, which blends so perfectly with well-established superstitions. Throw in the sci-fi nickname and a generalized ignorance of how computers actually work, and you've got a scare story with legs.
There will be computer errors associated with the Y2K problem. In fact, they've already begun. Several prospective jurors in Philadelphia, for example, recently received notices relieving them of jury duty in 1900. This, the republic can survive.
Still worried? Here's an experiment that may help calm you down. Take out your wallet. Look at your credit card. The year in the expiration date almost certainly starts with a ''0.'' It's already 2000 in the financial world and has been for a while, but my Visa bill keeps coming right on schedule, and I bet yours does, too.
Seriously, fixing this problem has cost businesses and governments hundreds of billions of dollars, and there may be further economic consequences as bugs crop up in the first quarter of the new year. There will also be economic benefits to be reaped from the modernized computer systems at hundreds of companies and the freeing-up of talent that has been focused on the problem. Somebody will sue somebody, I'm pretty sure of that.
None of which is to say that we can't anticipate some unanticipated disasters. I mean, who knew how awful that Y2K movie on NBC was going to be? And Will Smith's sappy ''W2K'' rap - that certainly qualifies as a threat to, well, something. But as chilling as these horror stories may be, they don't add up to a global blackout.
Nevertheless, the Y2K alarmists don't give up easily. For some, it's a matter of economics. Take the WorldNetDaily Web site, a well-trafficked paranoia mill that this week ran a big, disaster-in-the-making headline on Y2K. The headline, although unsubstantiated by the accompanying story, provided a dandy segue to the next headline, an advertisement for a how-to-survive-a-Y2K-disaster video. Imagine being stuck with a warehouse full of those on Jan. 1.
No matter what happens, you know the disaster crowd will claim vindication if so much as a streetlight fails to operate on schedule. Most people will probably notice that they are not freezing in the dark, though, so paranoia will have to find a new bogeyman in the new millennium. Early candidates include the World Trade Organization, China, and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.
And hey, Y3K is not as far away as you think.