By Jen Ross
The Y2K bug is a boon for business. As the world spends an estimated $2 trillion fixing it, one wonders if the so-called blunder was entirely accidental.
Here’s my theory: The Y2K bug is part of a plot to boost business both by forcing people to upgrade or replace computers and electronics and instill fear, prompting consumers to buy freeze-dried goodies, generators and a whole array of things they wouldn’t otherwise need.
The main conspirators appear to be the high-tech companies and computer experts, who will pocket the bulk of Y2K-spending. Is it coincidence that the very players who created the problem will be reaping the rewards?
Having a universal expiry date would almost guarantee programmers jobs and assure computer manufacturers steady sales at the turn of the century. And the fact that computers and other electronics will expire universally gives companies an excuse to charge people for upgrades while escaping personal blame. It’s not IBM’s fault — blame it on those darned early computer planners.
It’s hard to believe, even in the 1970s, that programmers could have innocently overlooked the possibility that computers with two-digit year codes would go haywire in 2000. More unbelievable, is that in 1997 computer manufacturers were oblivious that their computers could be toast in three years. Stores didn’t even start selling Y2K-ready computers until 1998. How convenient that most computers only carry two- or three-year warranties.
The Y2K problem reeks of planned obsolescence — a term devised in the 1960s to explain how manufacturers purposely made products that would expire shortly after their warranties did. Companies don’t make money assembling toasters that last 20 years. They ensure a continuing clientele by making products that need to be replaced periodically.
Media owned by big business are also accomplices in the plot. The millennium bug gives reporters something to write about and it generates advertising by giving companies something to sell. Media have helped feed the millennial frenzy with stories about survivalists preparing bunkers, planes dropping out of the sky at midnight and armies being put on emergency alert.
In turn, companies of all kinds are preying on millennial fear to boost sales, prices and profits. Books and self-help videos on millennium-preparedness are nearing bestseller status. Generators and wood stoves are hot items. People are already hitting grocery stores to avoid the last-minute scramble to buy supplies in December. Food, water, candles, fuel, batteries, even guns are being snapped up, as people anticipate price hikes and shortages on millennium items.
All we need now is a Y2K Hollywood blockbuster, complete with strategic product placement so companies can plug their Y2K-preparedness wares. The hero stocks up on Cheerios as a nutritious non-perishable foodstuff. The heroine sports Adidas so she can escape looters and hoof it when her car dies. And those who haven’t prepared themselves perish rightfully for their lack of foresight.
The millennium will likely pass with isolated computer glitches lasting a couple of days. People will thank their lucky stars all hell didn’t break loose and praise themselves for having been prepared in case it did. Meanwhile, retailers of all kinds will be laughing all the way to the bank.