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Psychological effects of the Millennium: Briefing #3

Millennium scenarios update (5 Jan 2000)

1. The future now

Five days into year 2000 we have real events to update the scenarios we have been using to forecast the Millennium transition over the past year.

We advise clients to use scenario planning (i.e. anticipating several options) when preparing for any uncertain event - whether the outcome of a job interview, options for developing a 5 year career plan or the potential effects of the Y2K bug on employment opportunities, business prospects and communities.

Our three core scenarios for the first year of the new Millennium were: business as usual, rough-ride and celebration (refer Y2K Briefing paper #1). We also considered two extreme scenarios - buy a gun (the catastrophe scenario, fortunately not required!) and transformation (dawn of a new age - see later).

2. Millennium bug fears recede

Potential Y2K computer problems were likely to emerge in five waves (refer Y2K Briefing #2). Global results reported so far indicate:

After intial euphoria reports are gradually emerging of many Y2K related systems malfunctions (refer the Taskforce 2000 website for global reports) including 7 nuclear power or military installations in USA and Japan and at least one air traffic system. Most are minor but some have caused serious local disruption for several hours. To date far none have been reported to have lethal consequences, most likely when systems malfunctions coincide with other problems leading to a major system failure or accident. Many minor Y2K problems in businesses may not have been identified yet. Others may not have been reported to maintain customer confidence unless they resulted in service failures that could not be hidden.

There are significant differences between countries in collating and publishing Y2K incidents - USA and Japanese data is open. UK Government and press reports are much less detailed. This reflects different Government approaches to media management and public information concerning Y2K risks and readiness planning over recent months. These are important because they influence the degree of vigilance or complacency among the general public.

The remarkably low incidence of Y2K problems to date is welcomed and reflects several factors:

3. Need for continuing Y2K vigilance

The 4th Wave of potential Y2K problems started yesterday (4th January), for the UK when public and private sectors resumed normal operations. No problems were reported in the media by midnight. Check the Taskforce 2000 website for ongoing reports and advice.

At least four significant risks remain:

1) Non-compliant software that appears to function normally, but stores new data entered with year "00" as 1900. This applies to PC database systems (eg Access v 1.0) that were not upgraded for 2000 compliance. This risk is most likely to affect small businesses, voluntary organisations and private individuals who lacked the funds or computer knowledge to upgrade old systems. Upgrading is still important for any system where accurate dates are important.

2) User-written programmes (input and reports) that only display "short dates" with 2 digit years ie 99 or 00, particularly on old software. It is not possible to validate whether these dates have been stored as 1900 or 2000. This matters when date-sorted reports are prepared eg work in progress reports, lists of new customers, patients etc. If wrongly dated such records will appear on some reports (not date-sorted) and disappear on others which are date sorted.

3) Dormant systems that only function when critical levels occur (eg high temperature or pressure warnings in industrial systems), or that may be affected by software that does not recognise 2000 as a leap year. These are specialist applications outside the scope of most small businesses, voluntary sector and private computer users.

4) Loss of vigiliance - real Y2K problems may be over-looked as public confidence increases due to the small number of reported Y2K problems - complacency reducing vigilance. Experienced system testers know that the smallest sign of unusual functioning must be checked out e.g. odd date formats on Windows 3.1 and Quicken v 5. These may be vital clues to potential date-related programme problems. This extra vigilance may hard to promote for people who have come to tolerate unreliable systems.

Given the stability of most systems during the Y2K "roll-over" future malfunctions are unlikely to be life-threatening, unless they occur in organisations that involve health or physical hazards e.g. medical records, manufacturing, construction, transport etc. But they could still cause inconvenience, financial loss, data loss or other disruption for businesses, other organisations and private computer users.

Users of all systems need to remain vigilant for potential problems for several more weeks, at least up to 29 February. Y2K upgrades and patches are strongly recommended for old software as soon as users can afford them

Subject to these cautions, global reports suggest that the business-as-usual scenario has begun.

4. Cultural events and celebrations

In the UK the celebration potential for New Year’s Eve and throughout the year 2000 was reduced by public cynicism over extravagant marketing initiatives and general "hype". While large public celebrations were planned by Government and local authorities local community events were more subdued than we expected. However more events are planned through the year and communities may feel more interested in organising local events as anxieties reduce and the fun-potential of the year becomes more obvious!

For many months UK Government publicity minimised the potential risks of the Y2K problem to minimise panic buying in December that could have caused other problems. This was very effective in the UK. (The most serious public service problems were due to shortages of hospital beds in many regions combined with a flu epidemic). However this seems to have resulted in public apathy or even rejection of the change to year 2000 as a significant event.

However the global TV coverage of New Year celebrations from 10 am (UK time) on News Eve showed amazing cultural responses to the new Millennium - at least at national level. The New Year was the occasion for 24 hours of the most spectacular international celebrations the world has ever seen on the same day and touching every country, at least since the end of World War 2.

The significance of year 2000 as a Christian anniversary might have created conflicts with societies based in other religions, or using different calendars. But this was anticipated and compensated for in many local and national celebrations. There were many inter-cultural and inter-faith events - from Tokyo to Belfast. Had there been serious Y2K problems these cultural bridges could have been vital to reducing global tension. Whatever the reason they encouraged fresh dialogue between many cultural and religious leaders and communities. Many media reports on the 1st and 2nd January included reflective programmes covering moral, spiritual or religious themes. These continue to be debated in the media including BBC News On-line.

Millions of TV viewers around the world watching these celebrations must have become more aware of our global community by seeing other countries and cultures celebrating the same event on the same day.

These observations are based on UK media and Internet reports. It is impossible to know how deeply individuals, families and communities were affected by national and international New Year celebrations. But it was a rare opportunity for local communities to celebrate their identity too in ways that only usually happen after state occasions eg in the UK after royal weddings and funerals.

5. The Celebration scenario

The business-as-usual scenario also has the potential to develop into the celebration scenario over coming months due to the boost in economic confidence it offers. Rapid fluctuations in world stock markets this week reflect a combination of new confidence from lack of systems problems and recent distortions in market values not related to Y2K. There are likely to be fluctuations in public and economic confidence for the first few weeks of January stabilising and developing into stronger optimism over the next 2-3 months provided that no serious Y2K systems problems emerge.

But the scale of global New Year celebrations probably exceeded most people’s expectations. This may represent wider social and cultural forces for change regardless of Y2K computer issues. If so a Millennium transition now looks more likely to follow the celebration scenario - a very positive start to the new year, century and Millennium.

Vigilance is still needed for potential effects of Y2K systems problems. But with stable infrastructure systems most problems should be easier to contain and manage within a few days or weeks.

The optimism in the celebration scenario should continue to build national and global economic confidence as fears of potential computer disruption recede. In practical terms this may offer more opportunities for employment, career and business development this year.

One fascinating possibility is that the celebration scenario may develop into the transformation scenario in 4th Quarter 2000. This would involve more radical changes in societal values e.g. business ethics and social justice and in international relations. This may come about if a Millennium transition develops, see our next briefing paper - Psychological effects of the Millennium #4.

Note: Links to some external Millennium monitoring sites may not work if sites have been closed down. Eos will continue to monitor other potential psychological effects of the Millennium throughout the year 2000.

page updated 7 January 2000, internal links updated 25 June 2000 © Eos Career Services 2000

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