Clutching Defeat From the Jaws of Y2K

Now that the Y2K bug has proved a colossal anticlimax, the media have begun the postmortem. Three distinct spins predominated in the coverage of the non-event. Some sneered at survivalists stuck with silos of freeze-dried lentils and oceans of bottled water, some asked whether the money poured into fixing the bug was wasted, and a third group assured us that all the panic-mongering was indeed warranted.

The most amusing story came from Declan McCullagh of Wired News, who examined the disappointment and denial among doomsayers stood up by the apocalypse. A separate piece by McCullagh got in a few more jibes at the Chicken Littles by quoting some of the most hysterical predictions from Y2K-survival guides and newsletters. Reuters echoed McCullagh's glib tone in a story that began, "Y2K has come and gone and the propeller-heads have spoken: It was mainly hype."

Meanwhile, the AP reported a backlash against all the Y2K spending. According to the story, Clinton's top Y2K advisor John Koskinen said that as much as $10 billion may have been wasted in the debugging effort. The analyst firm International Data Corp. (which is owned by International Data Group, the same company that owns The Standard) put the figure as high as $41 billion. AP reported that the Cuban government has attributed Y2K hype to a capitalist plot, saying that the absence of the predicted meltdown "brings suspicions that the enormous investments in computers obeyed an audacious market maneuver." And MSNBC's Bob Sullivan reported that an official in Slovenia who recommended that people stock up on food, batteries and medicine in case of disaster was fired after the media accused him of exaggerating the Y2K threat.

Nevertheless, there's some evidence that suggests the danger was real. The AP opened its story by reporting that, in an unscientific experiment, one state left three minor computers "known to have problems" running, and all crashed completely. Sullivan believes that the backlash belittles the achievement of those who combated the bug. As he pointed out, had there been a great computer catastrophe, the Slovenian official would probably have been fired for making his warning too mild.