The Next Millennium

by Bob Zeidman

Introduction

At the end of the second millenium, a worldwide crisis occurred of such vast proportions that even the wisest of their generation were unprepared. The leaders, the statesmen, the intellectuals, the writers, the artists were all taken by surprise at the ferocity and speed at which the crisis occurred and at the total amount of damage that was wreaked upon civilization as we knew it. Only the computer programmers had an inkling of what might occur and they’d be damned if they’d tell you or me. Of course, they feigned innocence. They claimed to have been working on the problem and attempting to fix it when all hell broke loose. They claimed that they, too, had underestimated the extent of the problem. But they were smart, as we all know, and it is difficult to believe that given their vast intelligence and large bodies - of knowledge and resources - that they too didn’t know what was about to happen.

As every student of history knows - as every human alive today must know - the Millenium Bug, for all of its terrifying consequences, was simply due to a single computer bit - or the lack thereof. A single true/false statement, one tiny on/off switch, a yes/no answer, perhaps a single electron could have saved the fate of humanity. In ancient times, when computers were first programmed, the year was represented as two digits - from 00 to 99. None of the experts could predict, or so they said, that computers would still be in use by the year 2000. These super geniuses of our times would have us believe that computers were simply a passing fad. Could they have been that smart, and been so wrong?

Ralph Nader, that champion of consumer rights and conservation, wrote an important book entitled "The Green Bit." By leaving out this one bit, each computer saved only a single bit out of millions or billions. But all of the computers had one less bit to worry about. One less transistor to turn on or off. Not only was reliability increased and cost decreased, he postulated, but the energy saved by not switching that single bit, on every computer in existence, could light the entire city of Manhattan for a single day. Of course later, after the crisis, it was discovered that Nader himself liked to program in his spare time.

Steven Hawkings, the famed physicist, wrote a treatise entitled, "How we really fucked up on this computer date thing," that was widely read. In it he showed how the date beyond the year 2000 could easily have been represented by the computer without using a single extra bit! But of course it was too late. The trap had been set years earlier and it went off regardless of all the warnings and supposed precautions.

It went off slowly. Not all at once on January first of the year two thousand, as many had expected. It actually started much earlier. Credit card were issued in 98 that expired in the year 00. To the computers, it appeared delinquent for 98 years. Bank accounts became locked, inaccessible. The rich became poor. The super rich were suddenly homeless. Telephone systems, faxes, internet connections broke down and those who relied upon them were helpless. Only those people that didn’t depend on electronics or networks or money were able to live life as they had before. They had stability and continuity. The homeless, the neglected, the underclasses had no less influence than the politicians, the nobility, the royalty, even movie stars. In one fell swoop, equality had been achieved.

But dark times ensued. There was turmoil and confusion. The computer programmers, as was their plan all along, attempted to gain control. To put themselves in power. They presented themselves as the new saviors, commanding respect, worship, and as much as $175.00 plus tax per hour to fix the existing computer systems. However, their calculating minds had not considered that the very fabric of society would be torn to shreds. The Browser Wars of the late twentieth century grew into the terrible OS Wars. The carnage was horrific, reaching a peak during the Great DOS Incident, followed quickly by the introduction of Windows 09. The wars concluded, finally, on that fateful morning of April 9, 2057 at the battle of QWERTY.

In the meantime, however, the poets, artists, philosophers, and psychologists had been holding secret meetings. They developed their own plan for the salvation of the human race. Theirs was a plan of goodness and niceness and soft, warm, comfortable feelings. While the programmers fought, these great thinkers slowly and gradually gained positions of power within the new governments. They slowly, forcefully (but without ever hurting anyone’s feelings or reducing their self-esteem) gained a stronghold that could not be broken. When the programmers finally settled their differences and were ready to take over the world, it was too late. Their ranks had been decimated. Instead, it was the intellectuals who had survived.

Of course, the computers were eventually fixed. Society, after some time, was up and running once again. But this time, there was a new social order. One built on a true ideal of equality. A true liberal dream of one-ness. A dream that meant that no one would ever again fear another person. No one would ever be a slave to another human being. No one would ever feel inferior in any way to any other human being for any reason whatsoever.

And, of course, the computer programmers were watched very carefully.