What if it were all a hoax? Just as there are the minority clinging to theories of flat Earths and fake moon landings, there is the group of Y2K naysayers who point to the non-collapse of civilization as we know it as evidence that there was never really a problem at all.
We're told the whole thing was a complicated plot dreamed up by IT companies to revive dying mainframe programming languages and Hoover cash by the truckload from gullible corporate IS managers scared of system failure. Maybe there were BIOS problems here and there, and the odd line of code to fix, but we're talking a weekend's work, not a multibillion dollar several year exercise, right?
Just how hard would it be to simulate a Y2K-related glitch? Not very. Assuming you can penetrate the security of a company, installing Trojans that muck up date information, crash systems at particular moments, and corrupt databases is not very difficult. Take the conspiracy theory one step further, and put Y2K simulation bugs into products themselves, and you've set your integration partners up for a very sweet deal indeed, handling all the upgrades, checking, training, etc, etc.
Then, on the actual millennium turnover (by common consent, although there is always the "but it's not until next year" contingent), trigger enough failures to make people wipe their brows and exhale a "whew, that was close, glad we spent all the time and money" sigh of relief, and there you go. Panic over, crisis solved, and we all get on with our lives, blissfully ignorant of the line we've swallowed, like any good con trick.
Paranoid conspiracy-theorists point out that not only were actual Y2K problems very few and far between, they were also fixed within moments of being detected. If you can fix the bug in minutes, what have the programmers been doing for the last two years? Where has the cash gone? You might also have noticed that miraculously, only one country had really severe system failures - Ghana. There are at least two possible explanations for that (excluding the third -- that they really did have Y2K failures). First, they were sabotaged, probably by the American government. Yes, the one that faked the moon landing.
Second, nothing happened at all.
Ever seen the film "Wag the Dog," where a completely fake war is reported by the media, and believed by the entire public, to save a political campaign?
Sound familiar? How do we know there were any failures? Do you believe everything you see on CNN? The only real public threat anticipated by the Year 2000 was a spate of viruses.
We were warned to brace for an onslaught of insidious viruses riding the wave (hah!) of Y2K panic. And where are they? Somehow, nary a one has appeared, and the anti-virus vendors (who were probably in on the whole sting all along) have now said it won't be a big threat after all. So, the only likely public menace never materialized. Coincidence? You decide.
Removing my tongue from my cheek for a moment, now's a good time to point out that in fact, this sort of paranoia is probably a sign of a crisis handled well enough to make it look like the effort was all for nothing. Hats off to the coders and testers -- friends of mine who spent a thoroughly boring New Year's Eve watching banking systems working perfectly through the night -- who deserve a celebratory bottle of bubbly for their efforts.
Now I just have to find a buyer for all these candles and cans of beans...