I was watching television last night, and a long-ago rerun of a show came on. It was a comedy, but the gist of it talked about the different ways people in 1999 were getting ready for the computer apocalypse known as “Y2K.” What was fascinating to me was that this huge global potential disaster was scheduled to occur at midnight of January 1, 2000. That meant that, for the most part, seniors in college today, and everyone younger than that weren’t even alive when the threat materialized. Sure seems like a fast 22 years, doesn’t it?
The problem of course arose from the way in which most computer systems kept track of time and date. Most programs, even though there is a 4-digit number for the year (like 2021, or 1998), in the last century were developed only having to us a 2-digit number, like “98” or “21.” Some unknown person, now famous for what happened instead of who they were, was thinking about the turn of the millennium, when we would go from 19 to 20, and decided that meant that all computers in the world would, with two digits, start over at “1900,” instead of “2000.”
You can probably remember the cultural panic that swept the entire earth, computer-wise. Billions of dollars were spent on getting super-smart computer geeks to work with a corporation to reset the computer code to a four-digit number, thus allowing the computer clock to tick forward to 2000, instead of reverting to 1900. As you may realize, there were no active computers in 1900, so that would have been a real mess otherwise.
But besides the incredible cost poured out to change a simple computer code, it was believed that everything that didn’t go through the change would seize up and shut down. That meant banks, and grocery stores and home computers and liquor stores and the like would lose control of their computers in one fell swoop. The reaction was world-wide. People started hoarding things, like toilet paper, and other essentials, and stocking up their basements and garages with non-perishable items to make it through who knows how long… there was a run on almost every item you could imagine, as fear gripped the culture, and we were almost forced to believe that we would all have to make fires in our backyards, and wear animal skin tunics and dig for grubs to eat. The world as we knew it would undergo a terrible, radical change.
It was really remarkable, when we think back. There was almost a sense of helplessness and great fear of the unknown. What’s amazing, also, is that we are talking about 1999. Even though computers were plenty, the computer chip hadn’t invaded our lives like it does today, as computers run our refrigerators, our cars, our clocks, our games, our phones, our everything, it seems.
It may show my age, but I can remember, as you might too, how when you went to the supermarket, some guy with a white apron had a little hand held price stamper, and would go through every item before it went on the shelf, and either give it a little white price tag, or print the cost of the can with that bluish-purple ink stamp. Checkers would take the item from your cart, and hand-enter the number into the cash register, and then total it up like a big adding machine. Far different than today looking for the UPC code and scanning it, allowing for sales items or raised prices without even looking.
The same went with televisions, as we used tubes and had to tune in the station, since there was no such idea as a digital feed. I typed every college and seminary term paper on a little electric portable typewriter, using erasable paper to correct the typing error when I made a mistake. I used gas station maps to make my way across the country, like a World War II navigator. Any timers we owned were the kind you turned a dial on in the front of the little clock, and it dinged when time was up.
It became fun, however, to use computers of different kinds on our watches, our phones, our cameras, our cars and so much more. Actually, in the 22 years since Y2K, we have been swallowed up by computer systems in everything we do. Cheri is a nurse practitioner, and the ONLY way she can chart a visit by a patient is by entry into the computer program. There are days when the system is overloaded, and seizes up, and you can almost hear the cry and lament of hundreds of doctors and NPs and schedulers, wondering what they will do now…
Y2K in the end turned out to be a non-disaster. When Christmas Island in the Pacific, the first place to see the new year, saw the date change, everything went on as normal, all around the world. It appears some people made a huge amount of money, and others spent a huge amount, trying to protect against the apocalypse to come.
Sound familiar? Not quite two years ago, the alarm sounded about a new disease, for which there was no protection, that was sweeping across the world, killing everything in its path. No one was safe, and the only way was to shut down society and economies, one after the other, and sit in our homes, armed with Lysol and face masks.
Yes – it was serious, and lots of people (millions, actually) contracted the virus, and especially for folks who were already physically compromised, there was the strong threat of death. As a world culture, we poured billions of dollars into a cure, and prevention (I do wonder how many face masks have been produced across the world in the last 22 months…), and somehow, we have mostly survived.
The world has split into two camps as a result. One group continues to say that everyone should just stay away from each other, and we should put fans in our windows when people come for Christmas, to blow away the dangerous exhaling of our family members. The other group has said, “That’s enough.” We have tolerated this mess for too long, and gotten our shots and it’s just time to let it work itself out, while we go on our merry way of attending huge sporting events, or meeting in bars or sitting next to someone in a restaurant.
Now, I am NOT going to say who is right. All I am writing about is the similarity this crisis is to the one happening 22 years ago. Each time, it is a worldwide exercise in fear. Some of it is legitimate, certainly, but I believe fear is not the core of our lives. Faith is. As we live reasonably, not carelessly, and not within self-imposed prisons, we make a stronger statement about who we are as humans, and especially, who we are as the followers of Jesus Christ.
That’s all – I leave your decision of course up to you, and respect whatever path you take. Just take care and intentionally act, not fearing whatever maybe, but living the day as a gift of God to you, in all its wonder and grace.
You can still, of course, wash your hands, get a shot, and don’t breathe on others – it’s never a good idea…
Word for the day: doldrums. Pronounced DOLE-drums. An interesting word, with little or no path to its original root. The closest we can find is Old English dol, meaning “foolish.” Perhaps it is also tied to tantrum, or a fit of some sort. Doldrums, usually described as someone “being in the doldrums,” is a state of inactivity or stagnation, or low spirits. When someone is in, or had the doldrums, the best image is of them sitting in their rumpled pajamas or sweats, unshaven or clean, mindlessly eating junk food while watching daytime tv. It’s a bad place to be. Strangely, you might describe them as being “dead in the water,” which is the nautical use of the term. To be on a sailing ship, and have the ship be in the doldrums is when it is in a spot that has no winds, or is too calm. They are stuck where they are, until things change around them.
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.