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Panic in the year zero, Part III

“NOW the whole earth used the same language and the same words. … They (the people) said, Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth. The LORD came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. The LORD said, behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them. Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another’s speech. So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of the whole earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of the whole earth.”

— Genesis 11:1, 4-9

When we flick on a light switch, we have faith the darkness will be eliminated. When we dial the phone, we have every expectation of being connected to business associates, friends and family members around the world. When we go to the bank and place our ATM card in the machine, we assume we will able to withdraw money. When we go to the grocery store, we never have a doubt the shelves will be stocked with food.

Don’t think of this as a political commentary. It is not. It is an essay written with one purpose in mind: To warn good people of a potential disaster that threatens to undermine every assumption we have about modern life.

After researching the Y2K “millennium bug” problem for several weeks, I believe all those assumptions of modern life — and many more — are gravely threatened.

I wish it were not true. After all, I run a fairly new Internet news service that is growing exponentially. Our projections show that, based on the current rate of new visitors, some time early in the new millennium, millions of people will be reading WorldNetDaily and my social and spiritual diatribes.

But such projections do not take into account the biggest disruption of human activity since the Tower of Babel. Without sounding alarmist, the world could be facing just such an apocalyptic scenario in less than two years.

When I began looking into this issue, interviewing computer programmers, talking to experts, reading the data, I was skeptical — very skeptical. With so much at stake, I assumed, some enterprising individual, some government entity, some entrepreneurial corporation, would find a solution to such a simple problem.

After all, we’re only talking about two digits in computer programs. We know what the problem is. That’s usually half the battle. Surely, I thought, there is time to deal with it.

I no longer have such confidence. Of course, people are at work on the problem. Programs are being fixed. There is still time to minimize the impact.

Yet, the more I learn, the more I realize there will be, at best, severe economic and social dislocation caused by the millennium bug in the year 2000, and even earlier.

I know computer programmers who are making as much money as they can right now so they can pack up and head for the hills before the worst effects hit. I know bankers who are preparing for major runs on their institutions in anticipation of the year 2000. I know of utility companies that will not be compliant in time and, thus, will be unprepared to deliver power to consumers. I know ordinary, rational people who are stockpiling food and supplies for a calamity they believe is nearly inevitable.

It’s easy to understand why. We have become as dependent upon the computer for communication as the world was upon a universal language before Babel. In fact, if you think about it, the binary code has become our universal language in the last 30 years. Is it possible we’re about to become as confused and confounded as the people of Babel?

Even if the bug isn’t devastating, wouldn’t it be better to be safe rather than sorry?