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Y2K, THE APOCALYPSE THAT NEVER WAS

If there’s something humanity is great at, it’s coming up with apocalyptic theories. Be it doomsday theorists or religious sects—if they had had their way, the world would have ended—exploded, nuked, suffered God’s Wrath and gone up in flames, in ice, pick your poison—multiple times already and humanity would be no more. It’s a good thing that they’ve all been wrong for now, right?

There’s something about doomsday theories that they always seem to catch on like wildfire—probably the end of the world factor—and no matter how improbable they seem, there are always people who firmly believe, and obviously don’t want anything else but spread their message of death and destruction.

The year 2000, for some reason, was an especially fruitful year for apocalyptic predictions. The great turn, the beginning of a whole new millennium sparked all sorts of doomsday theories, many of them renewed from previous (and failed) years. For example, we have the Second (unsurprising) Coming of Christ, predicted by multiple people, amongst them, Sir Isaac Newton (!). I’d also like to point out Hal Lindsey, a Christian writer who has been predicting it since the 80s, changing the date every time his prediction failed. Other apocalyptic events included the War of Armageddon, eventually leading to the end of the world (throw in civil wars, nuclear wars, biological wars, chemical wars and all other sorts of wars you can come up with), the arrival of the Antichrist, total devastation of civilization by AIDS (followed by a rebuilt by a peaceful matriarchal society), and your friendly neighbourhood natural disasters (be they man-made or divine). Oh, and let’s not forget multiple Raptures and Tribulations.

The Millennium was going to be packed, it seemed.

But there was one thing that caught on especially: The Year 2000 problem, also known as the Millennium bug, the Y2K Problem or the Y2K bug. In theory, it was not a very big problem; it was certainly not an end of the world-level problem. The problem was that due to the practice of abbreviating a four-digit year to only the last two digits, computers and other electronic devices would be unable to distinguish the year 2000 from the year 1900, and that in turn would cause errors—mostly when it came to displaying dates or ordering dated records or real-time events. Doesn’t sound that catastrophic, huh? It sounds even less catastrophic after the government and a great number of computer users worked to upgrade the systems and correct the Y2K flaw, but the metaphorical seed had already been planted. If the computer systems won’t be able to properly recognize the New Year, the whole system will crash, the economy will collapse, soon we will run out of food, water and other supplies, the world will be plunged into chaos, civilization will be destroyed—oh my god, those doomsday theorists were right all along: The Year 2000 will bring the end of the world upon us. Of course, the media played a very big part in all of that, and the (unsurprising) result was thousands of families stocking up on everything in the last days of 1999, thoroughly preparing for the upcoming Armageddon in their bunkers and whatnot.

… But January 1, 2000 came along and everyone was still alive. The upgrade had actually worked! What a miracle! Even though malfunctions were registered, they were considered minor. For example, some websites did display the date as “01/01/19100”, a number of telephones in Japan were deleting new received messages instead of older messages when their memory filled up, and in the UK, incorrect Down syndrome test results were sent to 154 pregnant women, which unfortunately lead to two carried out abortions. However, no nuclear weapons fired off accidentally and started another World War, the economy didn’t collapse, airports and flights were functioning correctly, and people welcomed the new Millennium as they did with any other regular New Year. Apocalypse avoided.

And what about the doomsday preppers? Well, we can safely assume they got out of their hideouts once they saw that in fact, nothing had changed with the new Millennium, but there was one story that went viral: Apparently, Canadian Norman Feller had entered his bunker in fear of the Y2K fallout and didn’t come out until 14 years later! Sounds totally credible, except it wasn’t—in the end, it was just a hoax.

Now if avoiding an apocalypse isn’t an exciting start, I don’t know what is. And as we all know, the 2000s stayed exciting, didn’t they? Now, if you want to re-experience the biggest moments of the decade, I suggest you tune into The 2000s: The Decade we saw it All, premiering in August on NatGeo!
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