Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ Y2K Day is Upon Us

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Dec 30, 1999

Posted to NewsTrolls, 31 December 1999.

San Francisco, California - the Golden Gate Bridge has been closed to pedestrians as I speak and a number of downtown streets will be closed later this evening. About 200,000 people are expected to watch the fireworks fired from four barges in San Francisco Bay.

On the west coast we have had the interesting experience of watching Y2K arrive in time zones around the world. Australia and New Zealand had celebrated before I awoke this morning and Moscow celebrated as I sipped my morning coffee. Just now I watched the spectacular display in Paris and await the London event with anticipation.

Silicon Valley is quiet; there have been some small reports of Y2K bugs - a last minute fix in air traffic control, some credit card refusals in Europe, a glitch in some slot machines - but nothing major has transpired and the Bay Area is sighing with relief.

Of more concern has been the terrorist threat. While the papers have reported at length on Algerian terrorists, a less publicized plot by American Militias (at least, that's what they were called) to set a massive explosion in Sacremento has been foiled. San Francisco is on alert, but is a confident alert, and millenium plans proceed apace.

I'm not sure where I will spend the midnight hour (yes, even with less than eight hours to go). Perhaps watching the fireworks, perhaps sipping a fine local brew at one of the many pubs or eateries. The millenium, for me, comes at what should be statistically the middle of my life, which means there will always be a before-and-after aspect to this day, and I want to commemorate it. Yes, it's all downhill from here. ;)

Watching the events worldwide - the fireworks, the music and dance, the solemn speeches - listening even now as I type to Ode to Joy, I am struck by the nature of the festivities.

This holiday has in fact if not in planning become a collective species-wide sigh of relief, an expression of the sentiment that "we made it". Perhaps on looking back through the century just completed we should be thankful (if not a little surprised) that we have emerged, if not unscathed, nonetheless happier, healthier and stronger than should be expected following two world wars and the cold war.

It is a sense of "If we can make it to this point, we're going to be all right." And while most of humanity will not see this as a half- way point in their lives, perhaps this is a halfway point in civilization. It may be that we are about to enter an age of glory, a dawn of a new conception not only of life and politics and literature, but of what it is even to be a human being at all.

We have transformed from an age where the most advanced form of communication was by swift horse from post to post along Roman roads to an age where the press of a button can send any one man's message - like this one - around the globe in a fraction of a second.

Such closeness changes.

Today I saw the choirs in Londonderry and in Belfast sing in harmony, the two worlds linked spiritually and physically across the Irish countryside, a message from young and old alike asking for, nay, demanding, peace. And though conflict ferments in many corners of the globe - from Chechnya to Liberia to the Spice Islands of Indonesia - perhaps we have reached an age where the voices calling for peace may outshout those militants crying for conflict.

We live in a golden age, of that there can be no doubt, and in our collective hands will rest the determination of whether this is the beginning of a millenium of peace and prosperity or the peak in a civilization in decline; whether we are the founders of an order of life to spread throughout the galaxy or the temporary crown on a summer flower, destined to fade through fall's frost.

Heh - I may have the distinction of having created the last Y2K bug of the century. The code I wrote December 19 1999 generated a Y2K error 12 days later. Oh well. I'll fix it when I return home next Wednesday.

Y2K in San Francisco was happy, friendly and laid back. Andrea and I went to see the fireworks by the waterfront and found ourselves near the front of a crowd of 250,000 people crushed into the downtown core. If you saw the televised version of the fireworks, you would have seen us - yes, that's us, just inside the line of palm trees front and centre.

The big story here is the run on plywood that preceded the big event. Storefronts on Market Street, preparing for the worst, had boarded every big of glass in sight. They needn't have bothered; the crowd was happy and well behaved. Of course, the thousands of cops ready in riot gear might have had something to do with it.

The best entertainment of the evening (other than the fireworks) was the lamp climbing event. Yes, right at front and centre was 25 foot decorative antique lamp post, and after several unsuccessful attempts one brave soul finally scaled its heights - and then proceeded to moon the assembled masses. The laser pointer just added highlights.

The hour approached and as fireworks streamed up from the Bay and the top of the Ferry Building we found ourselves doused with champagne and covered with tinfoil confetti. And yes, the lights stayed on.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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