Remembering Y2K, and listening to scientists

posted by Jeff | Sunday, December 29, 2019, 11:55 AM | comments: 0

Hopefully everyone realizes that technically we're not at a decade transition, because there is no year 0 in the Christian calendar. 2020 is the last year of the decade, not the first, just as 2000 was the last year of the millennium. But that aside, remember Y2K? For those of you too young (or not born), a great many computer systems were written in a way that they stored dates as two digits, like "91" instead of "1991." As you could imagine, that means some systems, on January 1, 2000, would calculate time incorrectly, since the difference between 00 and 99 is 99, not 1. This sounds like the result of lazy programming, but remember that memory and storage was expensive back then. My first PC in 1995 had 4 MB or memory, which is not even enough to hold a single MP3 today. My current phone has 64 GB of storage, 16,384 times that PC. Storing two digits versus four made a difference.

But there was this great Twitter thread I happened to see that illustrates how soon we forget, and how people default to ignorant observations over critical thinking:

Y2K, from a software perspective, was a non-event, but only because we identified the problem and worked very hard to make sure we solved it. That skeptics were (and apparently are) going on about how nothing bad happened demonstrates a serious lack of understanding about cause and effect. To be clear, there were some systems that failed here and there, but none of it was for critical things like monitoring nuclear power or banking. It also shows what happens when technical people, who by nature have to use the scientific method every day, can solve problems when they see them.

It feels like we've stopped listening to scientists. The bizarre anti-vaccination people are some of the worst of it, but so are the people who deny that client change is a thing (most of whom will be dead anyway when it gets worse). I can't fundamentally understand people who reject objective truth. American politics have made their way into science and fact, as if it were a sports rivalry. And it doesn't matter how much you love Cleveland, because the Browns will always suck. That's an objective fact. (I kid, that's not an objective fact, but it was too funny in the context of sports metaphors not to use.)

I wonder what it will take to get past this. I imagine that some of it is just getting younger people into power and decision making positions. Defaulting to nonsense conspiracy theories, rejecting critical thinking, ignoring that the sky is in fact blue when you can see it... this has to change.


Post your comment: