Despite the Hype, Y2K Mania Falls Flat

A year ago, it seemed like a sure bet.

December 31, 1999 would roll around and the world would be whipped up into such a millennial frenzy that anything would sell. Stores stocked up on survival supplies. Tour companies began arranging fantastically expensive tours to the Pacific for customers who want to see the first lights of the year 2000. Consumers reported widespread champagne hoarding. Rumor was that CNN was busy composing the mother of all theme jingles for their millennium coverage.

But surprisingly, with the big night a month away, America is calm. The millennial cults have been keeping to themselves. Maybe the warm and fuzzy Y2K reports the government has been issuing for the last few months are paying off. The epidemic of paranoia many anticipated would be breaking out about now just hasn't materialized.


Of course, Y2K still might cause a lot of problems in the world's computers. Especially in third-world nations and in former communist countries, Y2K preparedness is not good. While the United States government started debugging its computer systems years ago, other nations have barely started. A serious disaster on New Year's Day is still a real possibility.

But as a cultural event, the turn of the millennium is starting to look pretty anticlimactic. NBC's much-hyped "Y2K: The Movie" was a bomb. According to the Los Angeles Times last week, sales for millennium shows and galas have been "tepid." The paper reports that "many worry that what was initially looked at as a historic payday may end up as a bad investment covered in confetti." Celebration 2000, a lavish event to be held at the Javits Center in New York, was cancelled after no one bought tickets. Even singer/songwriter/poet Jewel canceled her hometown New Year's Eve concert in Anchorage after selling only 1,000 seats.

It 's possible the millennium is fizzing because everyone just realized this isn't really the end of the millennium. As any math nerd can eagerly tell you, there was no year zero, therefore the next century doesn't technically start until Jan. 1, 2001.

That doesn't seem likely. Although The New York Times newsroom is reportedly awash in hysterics over how to cover the millennium--whether or not the Gray Lady should give in to the poor math of the mob--no one else really cares. For most of us, those three zeroes are pretty convincing.

But not convincing enough that we're willing to buy Jewel tickets, or dig a fallout shelter, or buy a round trip to Tahiti. Bad math notwithstanding, Americans are remarkably blase about Y2K. "Sarah, Plain & Tall," whooped "Y2K: The Movie" before Thanksgiving. Millennium-themed advertisements are almost universally regarded as lame. And even as Y2K computer problems are beginning to surface--people in Philadelphia have been getting jury notices for service in February 1900--there's not much excitement over the impending milestone.


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