Were the millennium celebrations really 15 years ago? It really doesn't seem that long ago since all of the hype surrounding the millennium – and the millennium bug – where computers were going to self-destruct and high street stores came up with some ingenious ways to sell millennium themed gifts (such as BHS taking the opportunity to sell cans of air to Christmas shoppers).
I remember waiting with baited breath to see if the world would be transported back into the dark ages with worldwide computer and communications networks failing. Of course they didn't and I was still able to send the obligatory "Happy New Year!" texts on my trusty blue Nokia 3210 (on Orange) and my computer, a Sony laptop that had eaten more essays (due to a tendency for the hard drives to overheat and crash) than I care to remember. Oh 90's technology, how did we cope!
Anyway, I digress.
What was the Millennium Bug?
The millennium bug was seen as a serious threat to not only computers as we know them but also to VCR's (remember those) and to anything that relied on a date to function. This was due to the way that dates were represented as two digits (to save memory) so the fear was that when the date changes from 99 (1999) to 00 (2000) affected systems would think they'd pulled a Captain Kirk and traveled back in time (to 1900 in this case).
The British government set up Action 2000, a taskforce of sorts to work with businesses and the public to prepare for any problems the millennium bug may cause – this involved pull-outs in national newspapers, TV and radio advertising and booklets delivered to every home and business across the country with helpful advice on how to prepare.
Looking through the Action 2000 booklet titled "What everyone should know about the Millennium Bug" is like delving into a lost era, with instructions on how to change the date for DOS based computers, advice to copy your financial spreadsheets to floppy disk before midnight on the 31st December 1999 to protect your data and advice on making sure your VCR, camcorder and fax machine are Y2K compatible.
What actually happened?
It all sounds quite ridiculous now, but the change is date could have caused some serious problems – in reality the changeover caused a few problems (some serious such as incorrect test results being sent to pregnant mothers in the UK and radiation monitoring equipment failing in Japan) but Y2K didn't have the wide reaching effects that some feared.
Things could have been quite different
Imagine if computers belonging to banks suddenly decided it was 1900 and refused to allow staff access to customer records because the customer's account had an "opened" date of 1970 with every transaction (from the computer's point of view) having taken place in the future. Suddenly all the preparation doesn't seem quite so unnecessary.