"False Conclusions, Missed Opportunities, Unlearned Lessons:
A Y2K Retrospective"
by Michael Brownlee
January 31, 2000
Only a month has gone by since 01/01/00 - the day the controversial "Millennium Bug" threatened to disrupt modern civilization - and already Y2K seems to have vanished from public consciousness and media attention. Yet there appears to be much confusion, misunderstanding, and misinformation about what actually happened, what didn't happen, what is still occurring, and what might yet occur. After devoting the better part of two years of my life to understanding and responding creatively to this issue (with the bias that Y2K was never really about Y2K), I've finally attempted to formulate some very preliminary observations. As briefly as possible, here's my first take.
There has been a rush to judgment about Y2K. While many of these conclusions are patently false, misleading, or at best premature, they are nevertheless being promoted:
* Y2K is over, the problem is solved. There is nothing more to be concerned about, if there ever was. It might even have been a hoax.
* Y2K was never a crisis. The estimated $200 billion to $1 trillion spent on Y2K remediation and contingency planning was largely unnecessary.
* The U.S. is to blame for the Y2K problem.
* With Y2K, we have successfully demonstrated that it is reasonable and even effective to wait until the last possible moment to address critical global issues.
* Government is the only structure that can adequately address global problems.
* The public citizenry is incapable of understanding and making decisions about technology issues. In fact, they should not be involved.
* In crisis situations, it is necessary to manage and control public perception of problems in order to prevent panic.
* We can trust that "the powers that be" (governmental and corporate) will always make decisions that are in the public's best interest; we can confidently place our lives in their hands.
* Y2K was a technology problem.
* Y2K was a management problem.
* John Koskenin solved the Y2K problem.
* John Koskenin is a good candidate for managing the U.S. response to global warming.
For some, including myself, Y2K appeared as the opportunity of our lifetime, a moment when society could initiate a much-needed course-correction in our headlong plunge into the 21st century. While there were many important benefits that emerged from the Y2K crisis, many significant opportunities went largely unrealized:
* Y2K did not provide our society a "teachable moment."
* There was virtually no public dialogue or debate regarding Y2K, and no democratic process.
* No major political leader or celebrity exhibited leadership in the Y2K situation.
* Y2K did not manifest as a carrier wave for social transformation.
* No widespread awakening of consciousness occurred with the dawning of the Year 2000.
* Authentic community is still missing in most of our human experience.
* Beyond the obvious technological meaning, "interconnectedness" has not reached mainstream reality. Separation prevails. Y2K did not bring us together.
* While thousands of heroic and dedicated individuals came forward to be of assistance in the impending crisis, a coherent grassroots movement for awareness and preparedness never materialized.
* While the Internet played a seminal role in making immediately accessible a vast body of developing knowledge about Y2K, and connected a number of people around the world in a dynamic conversation of exploration and discovery, this powerful self-organized network of information and insight was largely ignored by the media, the public, the corporate world, and the government.
* The public still does not understand the implications of the Y2K crisis. Mass media never realistically portrayed the realities of the situation.
* Investigative journalism remains virtually silent on the issues of Y2K.
* Consumerism and exploitive commercialization prevail, without adequate regard for social or ecological resilience, sustainability, or equitability.
* We have no inspiring common vision for the future to guide and inspire us.
Y2K appeared to provide a poignant backdrop for learning lessons that could be vital to the future of the human species. As Y2K now fades from public consciousness, these lessons appear to remain unlearned:
* Lack of understanding of interconnectedness and interdependence can have serious and far-reaching consequences.
* Problems cannot be solved with the level of consciousness that created them.
* We build our computer systems, as Ellen Ullman has said, the same way we build our cities: over time, without a plan, on top of ruins. While pervasive, the information infrastructure is still relatively fragile and vulnerable.
* Stirring people to action based on fear of what might happen is disempowering and ineffective.
* Preparing for the worst and hoping for the best is a fear-based strategy.
* It's prudent to remember the Titanic: Have enough lifeboats onboard and know how to use them; inspect the rivets; be wary of repeated declarations of confidence.
* The deep and sweeping changes occurring in our world signal the advent of chaos, a spontaneously occurring transition phase in which a system suddenly reorganizes itself into a new form.
* In our seemingly insatiable drive for certainty and comfort, we diminish our capacity to respond creatively to the radical uncertainty that accompanies chaos.
* In times of chaos, prediction of the future is nearly impossible.
TOWARDS THE FUTURE
I do not want to appear negative or despondent here. Far from it. I am greatly relieved that Y2K did not have the disastrous consequences that some analysts warned were possible. At the same time, I recognize that the apparent outcome of the Y2K crisis allows many people to believe that "life as we know it" will simply continue, that "business as usual" will prevail.
But we need to understand that "life as we know it" is destined to change swiftly and soon. We will consciously and purposefully change the way we are living on this planet, or we may face far greater crises than we have yet experienced.
It's time for us to consciously choose the future we want to create. As Ervin Lazlo said:
"Our generation is called upon to make the choice that will decide our ultimate destiny We are forced to choose, for the processes we have initiated in our lifetime cannot continue in the lifetime of our children."
However, the problems or crises we face are not our primary challenge, because our problems and crises are inherent in our current state of consciousness. Our challenge in planetary consciousness is to regenerate the patterns of consciousness in the world community and move them to a new level. In short, it is time for us to evolve. This will require great vision and unprecedented leadership in all areas of human endeavor. Jonas Salk said:
"The most meaningful activity in which a human being can be engaged is one that is directly related to human evolution. This is true because humans now play an active and critical role not only in the process of their own evolution but also in the survival and evolution of all living beings. Awareness of this places upon human beings a responsibility for their participating in and contribution to the process of evolution. If humankind would accept and acknowledge this responsibility and become creatively engaged in the process of metabiological evolution consciously, as well as unconsciously, a new reality would emerge and a new age would be born."
Scattered throughout the world, a growing network of world-workers is emerging, people who are laying the foundation for a quantum leap forward in human evolution. Like many people who were activated by the possibilities of Y2K, this is where I now choose to focus my energies, and trust that many more will follow suit.
Very recently, I had the opportunity to read a most extraordinary book, The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual, by Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls, and David Weinberger, four of the liveliest and most r/evolutionary voices to emerge on the Internet. They are kindling a conversation that could change our world (you can join it by visiting their website at www.cluetrain.com). These outrageous and courageous authors conclude their manifesto with a vision that is worth sharing:
"We do have a vision of what life could be like if we ever make it through the current transition. It's hard for some to imagine the Era of Total Cluelessness coming to a close. But try. Try hard. Because only imagination can finally bring the curtain down.
"Imagine a world where everyone was constantly learning, a world where what you wondered was more interesting than what you knew, and curiosity counted for more than certain knowledge. Imagine a world where what you gave away was more valuable than what you held back, where joy was not a dirty word, where play was not forbidden after your eleventh birthday. Imagine a world in which the business of business was to imagine worlds people might actually want to live in someday. Imagine a world created by the people, for the people not perishing from the earth forever."
Yes, imagine that. And from our online Y2K experience, we can well imagine that the Internet will figure prominently in the unfolding of this learning and growing world.
Finally, I want to say that while Y2K may not quite have been the wake-up call for our frenzied world that I had anticipated, it has nevertheless been the context in which many of us have awakened to the reality that we are now called to contribute thoughtfully, heartfully, and actively to humanity's unfolding evolution. For that, I am extremely grateful.
If you care to comment on any of these issues, or engage in a dialogue, please e-mail me: firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to hearing from you.