It's January, 2000.
The world's communication channels did not cease, commerce did not
crumble, the transportation industry did not collapse, energy sources
were not turned off, the food supply did not go to waste and the world
did not come to a grinding halt. To top it all off, your PC still
works and there's some money left in your bank account.
The millennium bug will soon be forgotten; life goes on I suppose.
In years to come Y2K will be no more than game show trivia. So why did
this threat of catastrophe trigger such extraordinary measures and
spending from so many Americans?
I'm not referring to computer fixes for the double digit date error.
Extraordinary measures were taken by people who were literally scared
into a survival mode. The following excerpt from a Y2K website tells
the real story.
"They have 18 cans of Spam and two jumbo slabs of
Velveeta," the Washington Post said about us on the front page. "I never eat
Velveeta and Spam is only good for carving contests at science fiction
conventions. But I really did buy the Spam and Velveeta. Why? Because I'm
scared. The Year 2000 problem is real and might cause disruptions in our food
Personally I hope they chalk their mistake up to temporary insanity
and dump the Spam and Velveeta, thereby avoiding a heart attack
triggered by an extraordinary cholesterol load.
Actually what might seem somewhat humorous isn't funny at all. Yet the
rationale behind the panic can provide valuable insights and lessons
for all of us. Let's take a few moment to explore why this occurred.
Essentially people are motivated by two principle forces; pleasure and
pain. Most will do whatever possible to maximize pleasure and minimize
One might argue that the threat of cancer from cigarette smoking or
cardiovascular disease from a high fat diet are both perceived as
painful. I certainly agree. Yet for most people, both threats are
unlikely to be transformed into reality tomorrow, next month or even
Yet the threat of the Y2K catastrophe was different, it signaled an
"impending" painful experience. Far more than just
inconvenience was predicted in the not too distant future. The key
elements here are timing and expectation.
Simply take the threat of pain, link it to heightened expectation, add
a sense of immediacy and one winds up with an unhealthy dose of panic.
This critical and effective combination is certainly easy to create
How is it possible? you might ask.
Simple! Hire some consultants whose livelihood
depend entirely on the predicted issue, generate some media hype (that's easy
these days for just about anything that seems to cause panic), and scare the
heck out of unsuspecting people who are unlikely to challenge the veracity of
impending doom. Sprinkle in a semblance
of fact, especially from government agencies concerned with different, yet
somehow loosely related issues, add a countdown the number of days 'til
Y2K, and simply watch the panic spread.
That's essentially what happened, even though the earlier trigger
dates passed uneventfully. Despite the warnings, chaos did not ensue
one day after 9/9/99.
So as intelligent people, what can we learn from this fiasco?
If we put into practice the lessons so masterfully demonstrated by
Y2K, we just might have a realistic shot at a number of mundane goals
like preventing cancer, heart and lung disease, and many of the
chronic illnesses that are potentially avoidable with practical
Perhaps you're not fully understanding the threat, or the potential
suffering, or the immediacy of preventing these conditions now.
Investing your hard-earned dollars in prevention will produce
longstanding benefits for generations to come.
The moneys wasted on Y2K might have funded the discovery of a vaccine
for AIDS. The time spent preparing for the millennium bug might have
been spent in health promoting activities that could save your life or
the that of a loved-one in the future. The intensity of your quest to
avoid this disaster could have been applied to ensuring that no
adolescent would ever pick up a cigarette again.
The commitments you make now have the potential to halt the real
catastrophes that do not have to occur. The choice is yours. Mind Over
© 1998,1999 Barry Bittman,
MD all rights reserved
Contact Dr. Bittman