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Y2K's a Joke

If only, if only, computers were that important

By Annalee Newitz

THIS WHOLE Y2K bug thing has got the whole valley on a power trip--it's like we've become the fifth horseman of the Apocalypse. Computers not only have the power to make the future happen (remember: "the future is now"), but also have the power to destroy it! Computers and their components are so incredibly, earth-shatteringly important that one bug can bring the universe TO ITS KNEES!

Give me a break. Hasn't anyone figured out that the Y2K frenzy--aside from being a completely solvable scientific problem and a job-creation scam for aging Cobol programmers--is just the concatenation of a million geeks' delusions of grandeur?

Even the hideously awful End of Days, the new Schwarzenegger vehicle about pre-apocalyptic New York, throws Y2K into its Satan-is-rising scenario. As Arnold stalks the Evil One through Manhattan, a sign looms behind him that reads "NY2K." This not-so-subtle reference implies that any breakdown in tech power is biblical in proportion.

The unwarranted self-aggrandizement around the Y2K flap is, to my mind, just a hyperactive version of what the computer-biz rags churn out every year around this time: the "top 10 next big things" lists that adorn the covers of Fast Company, Red Herring, Business 2.0, etc., ad nauseam. Of course, we all love futurism and predictions--they're what fuel the popularity of science fiction and tabloids. And we want to know what's coming next in the computer industry, too. I have no gripes about reporters writing about that to their hearts' content.

I consider it a narcissistic problem only when the "10 trends 2000" or "the next 1000 years" that these magzines' tout are said to be fueled entirely by the digital revolution. As I believe I said earlier: Give me a break. Our cultural obsession with science and technology as so-called progressive, future-thinking forces has morphed into an obsession with computers.

But why do we think computer science should drive the future? And more to the point, why should the business of computers rule the next millennium? Is the entirety of your future really going to be affected by the reinvention of venture capital or the commercialization of Linux? Of course not.

In the future, you'll see movies, hang out with friends, experience some orgasms, vote, travel and have earth-changing conversations with people you don't know right now. And none of those things will be determined by technology. You'll do cheesy things like watch the sunset. One of your coworkers might return from vacation with a new gender. You'll take a cooking class. And computers will have nothing to do with it.

I guess what's most insidious about the idea that, say, the web will control our global destiny is that it ignores how history really works. People create the future, just as they create technology. We have not been propelled forward by science--some white guys in the 18th century invented an idea they called science and that idea has proved helpful in measuring the physical world and in creating useful gadgets.

But science has not made us more "free" (witness eugenics, medical experiments on minorities and the atomic bomb). Nor has it controlled us. We have controlled it and used it to propagate the usual human errors.

It's no wonder that End of Days links Y2K with religious apocalypse. When you elevate the idea of science so much that it "creates the future," then what you have is a new form of mythology, not a rational method of inquiry.

And don't even get me started on what this means when you add the power of business into this whole equation. Somehow it makes me think of that weird new Doughnet.com ad cycle I keep seeing on TV. You know the one: Some dorky white guy is walking down the street with another guy who is painted entirely in green. Green guy represents his money. Money says, "Let's buy some chocolate! I wanna buy that coat! I wanna buy a big face mask! C'mon, let's buy something!"

It's the monetary unconscious! Not only does biztech surround you, but it's actually inside your head, controlling your desires, your actions ... and your future. And the solution? Doughnet.com's e-commerce site, of course. Because computer business is the future. Remember, science, computers and money control you. Resistance is futile. Give up.

Happy New Year!

Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd. The letter will always reach its destination at [email protected]

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From the December 30, 1999-January 5, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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

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