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[whitespace] Illustration The Deniers

Is Y2K the biggest nonevent you've never imagined?

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor

AMID THE mounting sturm und drang over the possible collapse of the U.S. and most of the known world at the turn of the "K," there are an unknown number of people who are following the old American tradition of saying "it ain't necessarily so."

And some who are not saying it.

Most Y2K skeptics are consumers voting with their feet, simply refusing to participate in the madness. They aren't taking their savings out of the bank, they aren't stocking up on water and canned goods, and they aren't priming the wicks on newly purchased kerosene lamps. They can be readily identified in public by a sort of tightening of the jaws and a glazed look that comes across their faces whenever they see another article about the millennium bug, such as this one. Others of this "silent brigade" are mainly business owners who don't want to put out the cash to Y2K fix-it consultants. "Eighty-five percent or more of small businesses have not done anything [about the Y2K problem]," a Y2K consultant told the Business Journal of San Jose last year. "There's a tremendous sense of denial among small businesses that this is going to impact them."

Though it may sound like an ostrich-in-the-sand approach, many knowledgeable people agree. Their comments reflect a large dose of skepticism about either the information technology industry itself or the government that regulates it.

"Despite mounting evidence that Y2K is unlikely to create major disruptions, either to the computing infrastructure or to society at large, the big numbers and dire forecasts are likely to continue being quoted," writes commentator Geoffrey James, author of Success Secrets From Silicon Valley. Calling much Y2K crisis commentary "disinformation" and "simply lies," James writes, "Let's face it, this won't be the first time that computer-industry hype has far outstripped reality, and to be sure, it probably won't be the last."

InfoWorld columnist Bob O'Donnell reported that at last year's Embedded Systems Conference in San Jose, "analysts and other industry watchers ... were vehement in their critiques of those who claimed the Y2K sky was falling because of embedded systems [that is, a ROM-stored specialized computer system that is part of a larger system or machine]."

Critics charge that some predictors of a smooth turn of the century are actually making money off of their optimistic predictions. Earlier this year, brokerage firm PaineWebber issued a "Y2K O.K." report that said the banks won't fail, electrical power won't shut off, telephones will ring and trains and planes will run, and concluded that, in fact, "addressing the Y2K problem will likely benefit the economy in that it leads to greater information processing capabilities and ultimately boosts productivity." In reply, consultant William Ulrich told TechWeek that "PaineWebber has a vested interest in making everything sound rosy; their job is getting people to buy stocks." Such critics don't come into this fight with clean hands, though; Ulrich himself is co-author of The Year 2000 Software Crisis book series which, presumably, sells more books the more people believe there will be a year 2000 software crisis.

A seemingly odd addition to the naysayers concerning a Y2K meltdown is the John Birch Society. Speaking to the issue on their website, the Birchers declare that, "[d]espite the dire predictions from many corners proclaiming the advent of a new Dark Ages, a survey of the evidence indicates that no such disaster is about to befall the United States." But a closer inspection of their arguments shows that the poster children for conspiracy theorists have not given up their view that shadowy hands are seeking to shape mankind's future. Commenting on the prediction by an international economist that the millennium bug has a 60 percent chance of causing a worldwide recession, the Birchers said, "He uses his analysis of the Y2K problem to propose internationalist and collectivist policies," and accused Bill Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair of orchestrating "an attempt to create ... a sovereignty shredding international agency" using the bug "as a pretext."

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From the November 18-24, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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