While we continue to celebrate 1999 Week, we must remember that the bygone year wasn’t all Lou Bega listing women’s names and baby Haley Joel Osment seeing dead people, but also, for many, the possible eve of a world-rending apocalypse. The Y2k bug—a numerical oversight in global computer systems—didn’t end up having any real, serious consequences, but, hyped up on years of The X-Files and Conan O’Brien prophesying, it’s important to remember that people really did have a serious fear that the technical flaw would destroy civilization.
There are lots of cultural artifacts out there that capture the mood of a panic that now seems hilariously misguided, but the purest hit of late-90s Y2K nostalgia comes in the form of an archived version of Y2K.Gov, a website set up by a group with the admittedly Illuminati-esque name of President’s Council On Year 2000 Conversion.
While there’s a lot to enjoy on the site, from its clunky design and the fact that its About page signs off with an early-internet “Thanks for visiting,” the best feature is a section entitled “Year 2000 Rumors.” On it, the Council attempts to put a terrified population’s minds at ease by answering some of the most pressing questions they have about the Y2K bug.
There’s a wonderful, wide range of ridiculous worries represented here. The first rumor is about whether or not “The President plans to declare a national state of ‘martial law’ for Year 2000 transition.”
“The President has no intention of declaring martial law,” the page declares, noting however that, while “it is not expected that the Y2K transition will create a need for such action,” the “Federal Government will be prepared to take such action if circumstances warrant.”
Other rumors marked with an all-caps “FALSE” include the possibility that “Y2K problems in Federal prison facilities will cause cell doors and gates to open, increasing the risk of prison escapes,” that “nuclear missiles and other weapons that are not Y2K compliant on January 1, 2000, will, in fact, launch,” and that pacemakers will fail worldwide. One of the two concerns considered “TRUE” is the menacing suggestion that “increased solar activity at the end of 1999 could cause satellite systems to malfunction on or around January 1, 2000.” The Council, presumably rubbing their enormous bald heads while gazing out the windows of their secret deep space lair, say that “the next peak in solar flares or storms on the sun’s surface” actually were likely to occur around the New Year. They warn only of “a few days of difficulties for pager operators and broadcasting companies,” though.
This last point, which mentions the potential issues that may be faced by “pager operators,” pretty effectively caps off just how distant 1999 was, if not in time than at least in technology and culture. It’s hard to believe, but these goofballs thought computers were going to cause the destruction of humanity, not a widespread dismissal of climate change’s worsening effects and the return of far right politics to the global mainstream! What a bunch of morons!
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