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Previously in Web Citations:

Unified Mouse Theory

Welcome to the wonderful world of Disney.

Beta-testing the Bible

Not just another digital-age prophecy.

Break on Through

Portal, n. 1. A door, gate, or entrance; esp: a grand or imposing one.

Digital Sunlight, Digital Shadows

Using the Web to shine light on campaign financing is supposed to make elections more honest. If only.

A Little Help From My ... Friends?

Hey, it worked with Linux. Enlisting the aid of countless strangers is a strategy that's catching on.

Biotech at the Barricades

Some would say the avant-garde is dead.This avant-garde wants to live forever.

Dharma Geeks

Sure, there's Buddhism on the Net, but maybe the Net itself is Buddhist.

Revisions of Slavery

What the Web accomplishes that neither Hollywood filmmakers nor PBS documentarists can.

Liberty and Linux for All

Microsoft's worst nightmare may not be a courtroom in Washington, D.C.

Everything for Sale

In the world of online auctions, anything (and everything) goes on the block.

The Numbers Game

Baseball's days as our national pastime may be numbered.

For more, see the complete Web Citations Index.
Head for the Hills
December 30, 1998

We've got a problem. It may be the biggest problem that the modern world has ever faced. I think it is. At 12 midnight on January 1, 2000 (a Saturday morning), most of the world's mainframe computers will either shut down or begin spewing out bad data. Most of the world's desktop computers will also start spewing out bad data. Tens of millions -- possibly hundreds of millions -- of pre-programmed computer chips will begin to shut down the systems they automatically control. This will create a nightmare for every area of life, in every region of the industrialized world.
Y2K So writes Dr. Gary North, a history Ph.D., who maintains a Web site devoted to raising awareness of the "millennium time bomb."

What does North think the world can do to avert the impending crisis? Nothing, unfortunately. It's too late. All that remains to be done is for people to gird their loins and head for the hills (North expects that the nation's COBOL programmers will have traded their keyboards for humvees by Q1 1999). Fortunately, North provides helpful loin-girding tips in his Remnant Review newsletter, which, in a rare show of optimism, he continues to offer as a "two-year subscription (24 issues) for just $225." (As an extra bonus, North offers his insights on what lies ahead in his free e-mail report, Blind Man's Bluff in the Year 2000, "ideal for introducing the problem to wives, in-laws, and other skeptics" -- for example, the owner of the Gary North is a Big Fat Idiot site.)

As legions of programmers work feverishly to defuse the Y2K time bomb lurking in the aging mainframe networks of many government agencies and private corporations, a whole sub-industry has arisen to meet the practical needs of preparing for imminent worldwide economic depression should the programmers fail. To convince readers to ready themselves for the rough road ahead, Y2KSupply.com has hoarded an impressive stash of alarming quotes ("10 percent of the nation's top executives are stockpiling canned goods, buying generators and even purchasing handguns" The New York Times, Oct. 98) and unsettling statistics ("Y2K Gauges: Chance of depression: 65% ... Awareness of Y2K: From 50% - 80% ... Very afraid of Y2K: 7% of people ... Buying supplies: 59% of people ... Shortages: Water filters, MREs, Oil lamps, Garden insecticides, Solar panels, Dehydrated foods, Non-hybrid seeds"). It also offers you a chance to "buy yourself some time right here on this site by trading some dollars for a closely-guarded list of critical Y2K suppliers and a detailed shopping list describing the exact items you'll need to get prepared" (presumably water filters, MREs, oil lamps, and the like). In an ingeniously altruistic marketing maneuver, the site promises to donate its Y2K Sourcebook ("valued at $195") at cost ($20) "to bonafide Church organizations worldwide."

A brief survey of the multitude of evangelical Christian organizations that have already created their own Y2K sites for churchgoers (CBN News Y2K Resource Center, The Joseph Project 2000, Y2K: A Christian Perspective, Focus on The Family's Y2K Resource Center, and the Y2K Prayershield, among others) suggests that this particular market segment is taking Biblical admonitions about apocalyptic preparedness literally.

Those unable to afford a subscription to the Remnant Review or Y2K Sourcebook need not despair. An abundance of other sites will happily instruct the novice survivalist in the fundamentals of hunting and gathering for the post-apocalyptic age. Unlike Y2KSupply.com with its strongarming disaster scenarios, Y2KChaos.com takes more of a soft-sell, personalized approach to disaster readiness:
Our first concern is that you do your own research and develop your own understanding of what you think will take place. Then we want to help you equip yourself according to what you think you will need and can afford to meet the coming days whatever 1/1/2000 might hold in store for anyone else in the world.
Whether their clients choose to stay put or wander off the grid, Y2KChaos.com brings suburbanites together with vendors and organizations -- Walton Feed, Alpine Aire Foods, Mountain Home Basics, Family Preparedness Now -- ready and waiting to help them pick up the pieces when the cookie crumbles.

Filthy lucre aside, there's more to life after Y2K than mere survival -- as Karen Anderson of Colleyville, Texas, will inform you on her site, Y2K for Women, a guide to practical household management and gracious living in the face of global economic collapse. Ladies: Concerned about where to store all those canned goods and extra bottles of water? Are disagreements with your husband over whether to turn the basement into a bomb shelter wrecking your marriage? Don't know what to tell the children? Answers to these and other questions await you. (For example, "I hate the dark, and the prospect of not having electricity terrifies me. How can I prepare?" and "During blackouts and riots, people sometimes act crazy and start looting. How can I be sure my house is safe against intruders?")

Should you wish to share your newfound strategies with your neighbors (and thereby pre-empt any embarrassing looting), the Cassandra Project's Neighborhood Toolkit should do the trick. The Toolkit comes complete with step-by-step instructions for talking to your neighbors about Y2K:
1. Welcome people and have everyone grab something to eat or drink before settling down.
2. Let everyone know where the bathrooms are.
3. Take time for introductions and have people sign in with address and phone numbers.
4. Begin with asking if anyone has heard about Y2K. Find out what they heard and/or know. What are some of the implications they have thought about. Explain what you found out. Speak slowly and clearly. Play the video.
With so much information available on the Web, there's no excuse for being caught unprepared. But you'd better get surfing while the going's good. Y2K is coming your way -- soon --and the Internet may not be much help when the day of reckoning comes.

--Gina Hahn

Join the conversation in the Technology & Digital Culture conference of Post & Riposte.

More on Technology and Digital Culture in Atlantic Unbound and The Atlantic Monthly.

Gina Hahn is The Atlantic Monthly's special projects editor.

Copyright © 1998 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
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