The Y2K Scare of 1999
By | June 21, 2019
At the end of the Twentieth Century, many people were panicking. They were stocking up on nonperishable food, camping equipment, batteries, fuel, and various other survival necessities – all in anticipation of the end of the world. And it wasn’t just everyday consumers who were panicking. Governments and private organizations were spending billions of dollars preparing for the new millennium.
The mass hysteria wasn’t completely unfounded. The Y2K Scare was spawned by a phenomenon referred to by technology experts as the “Millennium Bug” or “Year 2000 Problem.” It was caused by the fact that computer engineers of the 1960s and 1970s used two digits instead of four to represent the year. Instead of “1969,” they simply put “69.” This made sense at the time because it saved costly storage space and the programmers did not anticipate the problems it would cause if these programs were still being used at the turn of the century. It wasn’t until about 1996 that computer experts began to realize that when the year changed from 1999 to 2000, the computer programs would recognize the abbreviation “00” as 1900 instead of 2000.
While that may not seem like a big deal, many businesses had computer software which relied on accurate time-keeping. For example, banks use software to calculate daily interest rates. The Y2K Scare caused the banking institutions’ stock prices to drop. Others worried that the computer systems for the airlines, which also depended on having an accurate time and date, would fail and cause airplanes to fall from the sky. Others feared that all computer systems would fail, including those relied on by hospitals and power plants.
Further complicating the issue was yet another theory that the computer failure would actually occur on September 9, 1999, which would have been abbreviated 9/9/99. Apparently, early programmers often used a series of nines to indicate the end of the program. Many were concerned that when the date changed to 9/9/99, it would trigger all of the computers to end the program and shut down. However, for most people, it was January 1, 2000, which threatened to be the end of modern civilization.