What caused institutions to take Y2K seriously?
September 5, 2020 2:01 PM   Subscribe

What caused institutions to take Y2K seriously?
When you know there's a big upcoming threat, how do you get big institutions to commit and follow through? And in particular, how useful is it to frighten whole populaces? Someone in a MetaTalk discussion of doom-saying and climate change made a claim that led me to ask: how did institutions get convinced to take the Year 2000 problem seriously and mitigate it? Was widespread consumer panic a necessary precondition? Would similar preconditions need to hold in order for institutions to take climate change seriously? I investigated the research literature and wrote up my findings in a blog post.
Role: Researcher and writer
posted by brainwane (5 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

Lots of good thought but a few observations. The public panic was way at the end, folks running the code were talking about it for years (cough 2038 is coming up fast), and were able to show explicitly what would happen by changing a test systems clock. I'm not a denier but CC is still incremental, no rowboats on 5th avenue just yet. Fixing code is hard but vastly easier and cheaper than carbon. The code was basically fixed long before the public panic started.
posted by sammyo at 7:51 PM on September 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

The key difference between Y2K and human-induced climate change is that with Y2K, if you didn't act before a fixed, known date, you were automatically out the game and uncompetitive. With climate change, there's no fixed date, and bad actors can appear to be more competitive in the short term by not cleaning up their acts.

Only when billionaires are inconvenienced will we see any action.
posted by scruss at 7:40 AM on September 11, 2020 [3 favorites]

I was in the middle of a CS degree at the time and had co-op placements with the Provincial Ministry of Health as well as with a bank. There was definitely a lot of hard work that needed to be done but at the same time Y2K was also used as a spur to upgrade equipment and software. IT departments liked the increased investment and buying something new to solve a huge problem is a pretty easy thing for the higher-ups to agree to.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 12:47 PM on September 15, 2020

Y2K was a politically neutral problem compared to climate change.
posted by Obscure Reference at 10:06 AM on September 28, 2020

Y2K was a perfect storm. It was an actual problem, it could be solved in large part by replacing assets that were depreciating already and we were in a tech driven bubble. If I knew I was going to replace my phone in 12 months anyway, there was a non-zero chance it would just not work in 6 months due a problem then I might as well upgrade it within 6 months.
posted by geoff. at 6:40 PM on October 2, 2020

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