In the Midnight Hour

Jeff Gainer

(Author’s note: This essay appeared in the 1 December 1999 issue of the Cutter IT Journal E-Mail Advisor.) 


Finally, there has been a small amount of substantive discussion of the Y2000 problem in the popular media, although most coverage continues to include only simplistic explanations and completely avoids (the dreaded) macroeconomics.  Yet despite the media coverage, the public seems increasingly unconcerned about the problem.  This summer, a National Science Foundation poll found the American public's concern about possible Y2000 problems was decreasing.  A recent Time-CNN poll (11 November) found a similar trend of lessening concern, but the numbers are dramatically different.

The new Time-CNN Poll bears little resemblance to the National Science Foundation studies earlier this year.  I attempted to enter the results of both sets of statistics in a spreadsheet to compare them, but it was very much comparing apples to oranges.  The National Science Foundation asked how much the surveyed citizenry had heard about the Y2000 problem, whereas the Time-CNN poll asked more pointedly if the populace is "concerned" about the problem.  The Time-CNN poll found 41% of the US citizenry to be "concerned" about impending Y2000 problems, down from 59% in January.  Of the respondents, 58% claim to be "not concerned," up from 39% in January.

The level of concern could be quantified by actions to prepare for the "big day."  According to the Time-CNN survey, withdrawing extra cash from the bank is still a popular preparation option, but even enthusiasm for this is flagging; it's now at 47%, down from 52%. (And to think the US government went to all that trouble to print an extra $50 billion.)  A surprisingly high number (46%) plan to stockpile food and water, and 34% plan to stockpile fuel. Disturbingly, a nervous 19% plan to arm themselves.

Like many entertainment-minded Americans, I found the second part of the survey more interesting, because it was more focused on the forthcoming party than dull stuff like computer problems.  In response to the question, "How will you spend New Year's Eve?" 75% say they plan to be at home, 35% will be at a party, 15% will be at a religious service, and a complacent (or just tired) 15% plan to be asleep.

To the question "What will you be doing at midnight?" the most popular answers were kissing someone (62%) and watching TV (56%). A festive 35% will be drinking champagne, and an even more festive 20% will be having sex.  Either Time-CNN surveyed 173% of the population, or a lot of people will be multitasking that night. And what of the 15% who will be asleep?

What the polls didn't examine are expectations for after midnight, where the questions could get really interesting but might take entirely too much thought to digest and would thus be unsuitable for mass-media soundbites.  One of the most interesting consequences may be on politics: in the US, 2000 is an election year.  President Clinton has confidently assured the American people that the federal government will function normally.  Indeed, if the government (and the economy) continues to function at something close to normal for the next 11 months, the current party can claim victory.  If things begin to go awry, the opposition party can claim the sorry state of affairs to be the fault of the previous administration -- and possibly win the election by doing so.

So it will go in corporate politics: if things go well, we would do well to remind anyone who will listen that we did indeed slay legions of millennial dragons.  But if things go otherwise, cash from the ATM may not be enough.  Perhaps many IT professionals will suddenly be idled or unemployed, a possibility for which we should all be prepared.

# # #


Jeff Gainer is a software process management consultant and writer. His management and technical articles have appeared in Cutter IT Journal, Enterprise Development, Contract Professional, and Visual Basic Programmer's Journal.  He can be reached on the Web at . Mr. Gainer lives in Grand Junction, Colorado, where he is reportedly stockpiling champagne.


(c)1999 Cutter Information Corp. All rights reserved. This article has been reprinted with the permission of the publisher, Cutter Information Corp., provider ohf information resources for IT professionals worldwide.

This article originally appeared in the Cutter IT E-Mail Advisor, December 1, 1999, a supplement to Cutter IT Journal.

Return To