Cultural Revolutions

Y2K Fiasco

Y2K has come and gone, and the modern world (for good or ill) is still standing. In the United States, business and government spent heavily on Y2K fixes; in foreign countries, much less. Yet the results were similar: Y2K was a false alarm. Why were so many computer-savvy people mistaken?

The reason computers did not come crashing to a halt when faced with the decision whether to classify "00" as "1900" or "2000" is simple enough: They cannot tell time. They respond to counting programs through electronic or mechanical means only; unlike men, they are not conscious. By labeling complicated storage systems as "memory," the "experts" had set the stage for the fiasco. The Russians—who, at least, understand the significance of philosophy—were not overly concerned about Y2K. It was the "pragmatic" Americans who fell for it.

What lay behind the Y2K hysteria was a fundamental misunderstanding of how we become aware of time. Electrical impulses running through a silicon chip cannot enable an unconscious machine to develop a sense of the past, any more than a tree's annual rings cause it to recall an earlier winter. We become aware of time through the human faculty of memory. In the absence of memory, an awareness of time could not be acquired simply by observing changes in perceptual patterns. Memory is more than mere retention. It shows us that the past...

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