Friday, November 12, 2004

Telirati Newsletter #50

In this number, I kick sand in the face of Y2K alarmists, having successfully predicted nothing would happen. The meanstream media was wrong about Y2K, and blogs like Slashdot got it right, presaging the current "discovery" of the blogoshpere by the mainstream media by nealry 5 years.

Telirati Newsletter #50: Why Too 'K?

No accidental nuclear war. No food riots prompting the imposition of global government implemented by U.N. zombie soldiers in black helicopters. Did you even get a fax dated 1900? Y2K went more than just OK, it went swimmingly OK. But then, this was predictable (and predicted in the newsletter entitled "Why Tu Que?") Before returning to rubbing it in, let's look at why this was so predictable.

First, and most important to those of you in the computing and telecom industry: the number of mission critical systems is vastly overestimated. Most systems hardened against failure and operated by a team of operators that wear their pagers proudly to display their importance are not actually mission critical outside of the mission of enhancing the significance of the people operating them. By contrast, the small number of actually critical systems were long since well taken care of, if there had been any Y2K concern over them in the first place.

Corollary to this rule are the fact that Russia, Nigeria, Mexico, and other chaotic places are chaotic for reasons like cleptocratic government, organized crime, and other forces far more life-threatening than any computer bug. It is unlikely that the balance of chaos in these societies would be upset by anything less substantial than a few planeloads of AK-47s and a coven of spies. Computers, as powerful as they are, are not up to fomenting revolution, and their relative lack of importance is viscerally known to every banana republic strongman with the wits to live through next week.

Second, expectations of Y2K were driven by a singularly unreliable transmitter: the "mainstream media." If there is one lesson to learn from Y2K it is that independent, non-traditional, and largely Internet-based information sources are at least as good as the so-called "mainstream press." Yes, kooks use the Internet as their trumpet, but they are easy to spot. Instead, the calm that pervaded independent Internet news sources like NewsMax, StratFor, the undeservedly maligned Drudge Report, and the non-traditional computer-oriented sites like Slashdot indicated that there would be no significant trouble. This illustrates that the "mainstream" press has been disintermediated as an effective way to get the most important news fastest. It now picks up and retransmits things we already know to the unplugged and generally apathetic, while retaining its other function as spin amplifier for views sympathetic to the journalistic subculture of people who have never made an actual functional work product and sold it. Hence we see the spectacle of formerly respectable institutions such as the New York Times and BBC proclaiming the non-millennium as if it were the millennium if only to avoid contradicting the political objects of their toadyism who have stood for dumbing down the calendar.

It is far too much to expect the traditional press to comprehend and accurately portray facts such as that computer systems of any non-trivial complexity have dozens to hundreds of bugs that can cause them to stop functioning. Increased taxes would not fix this. Regulations would not fix this. More social workers would not fix this. A lawsuit would not fix this. One could blame it on white men, but those were antediluvian times when white men with short hair wrote code. Nobody would get the connection, since everyone who relies on the mainstream media knows that most programmers look and act like Jaron Lanier (who invented virtual reality in the lab just down the hall from where Al Gore, who must have at the time sported a similarly Rastafarian haircut, was inventing the Internet). It is therefore impossible for most young reporters who have been to journalism school in the last 20 years to write a concluding sentence to a news item accurately describing the danger, or lack of it, from the Y2K bug.

Then there is the minor point that it wasn't actually the millennium. The new millennium, the next thousand years after the first and second thousand in the Western calendar's numbering scheme, begins at the end of this year. The first year of the new millennium is 2001. If one is really serious about immanentizing the eschaton, which is not a task to be taken lightly, one would make sure not to martyr oneself and appear before the higher authority a year early. Oh faux pas! Which only goes to show that the average fanatical zealot can get the calendar right when a certain prodigal Rhodes scholar cannot, or chooses a path of ignorance on purpose. Should one be more worried about the end of this year? Probably. But even if you think the world is done on the granularity of millennia, it is a bit arrogant to suggest that you will be walking the earth when the End of Days does arrive. Even the fieriest millennialist may have to concede that Bill Clinton makes a pretty lame antichrist. He's smart enough, but the ease with which he is distracted from his job does not exactly fit the profile of "working like the devil."

There are however, some serious pitfalls to avoid. While there is no orderly or competent New World Order, there are thousands of little Pol Pots in bureaucracies all over the world that would take advantage of any opportunity to regulate your life in accordance with their pet theory of society. Some boondoggle monger got the U.S. President to stand up and spend a considerable amount of credibility on asking for government money for an anti-cyber-terror squad just as the FBI was admitting there was literally not a single incident of Y2K cyber-terror that stood out from the normal level of cracker jiggery-pokery of port scans and spammers shanghaiing mail servers. Resisting such cyber-pork swindles will be a tiresome but constant and important chore for cyber citizens that want to keep the golden goose out of the kettle of the government chef.

Watch your wallet around government men. Don't trust the big media companies. Do listen to your own judgment based on data you collect yourself. Go forth and prosper in the New Year.

Copyright 2000 Zigurd Mednieks. May be reproduced and redistributed with attribution and this notice intact.