Now that 2000 is a bit closer, however, it might not be prudent for someone to predict a major technological breakthrough or a radical change in world thought. It's only a year or so away now, so we'd better get busy.
Most of the year 2000 notoriety lately has been the year 2000 computer glitch, which has become known familiarly as the Y2K problem. For the two of you out there who are unaware of this problem, it seems that computer programmers, despite their nerd-laden ingenuity, didn't consider programming in the change from '99 to '00. Computers compensate for daylight savings time and even leap years, but not that.
The potential problem is that computers may read that '00 as 1900, so that bills or payrolls due in 2000 would probably be inclined to wait, oh, 100 years before payments kicked in. Many companies are cashing in on the Y2K problem, since it costs large computer users huge amounts of money to fix it.
But the problem with Y2K doesn't end with repairing the programming. Even if every computer on Earth received the proper updating, there still is expected to be panic in the streets come Millennium time. For starters, there is the panic that could be created by people fearful that the Y2K bug hasn't been fixed and that planes that happen to be airborne at 12:01 a.m. on Jan. 1, 2000, will have a difficult time landing -- if they don't simply plummet from the sky.
A greater problem could be seen in the financial industry. People who fear automatic teller machines won't work after 2000 -- or that bank computers will forget their balances -- might begin making early withdrawals just to ensure they have enough money on hand to live in the new millennium.
Then there will be people who figure the world probably will end, anyway, after Jan. 1, 2000, and prepare for that by maxing out credit cards, buying stuff on plans that guarantee no payment until after Jan. 1 and generally blowing their life's savings just to get them out of the way. There is precedence for this sort of behavior. Every now and then, some religious seer will gather a group of faithful, max out all their credit cards and wait for the big day. Others simply latch onto a comet and fly away.
As the first Millennium approached, people went crazy, too. Figuring something big was about to happen, a lot of them quit caring for their homes, left their crops in the fields and basically quit working altogether. And they didn't have credit cards to abuse, or it could've gotten really ugly.
Those of you who believe this Y2K thing is just a computer programming conspiracy to bilk money out of the unsuspecting should probably think some more. The potential for problems would make an excellent doomsday movie (apparently there's one in the works for release in the summer of 1999). Or you could follow the crazies, get as many credit cards as possible and have the time of your life all the way through Jan. 2, 2000.
It's Jan. 3 you have to worry about; that's when the banks open again.
Bill Wellborn is editor of Memphis Business Journal.