Intended for healthcare professionals


What the millennium bug tells us about ourselves

BMJ 1999; 319 doi: (Published 21 August 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;319:464

Y2K anxiety is provoked by unlimited ambiguity with a concrete deadline

  1. Jeremy Anderson, director (
  1. Centre for Clinical Effectiveness, Monash University-Southern Healthcare Network, Melbourne, Victoria 3168, Australia

    I know of no rule that holds so true as that we are paid for our suspicions by discovering that which we suspect—Henry David Thoreau

    How many conversations in the next five months will endlessly circle around the anticipated effects of “Y2K,” the “millennium bug,” the freak of parsimonious computer programming that threatens widespread malfunction of microchips on 1 January 2000? Whatever their otherwise differing views, the many commentators on this phenomenon agree that clear predictions are impossible. The situation is unprecedented. The nature of the technological failure, its widespread distribution, and its simultaneous onset are all unique. This unlimited ambiguity combined with a concrete deadline provides a fertile breeding ground for anxiety.

    Not everyone is anxious. The former chair of the US Federal Communications Commission, Reed Hundt, said: “January 1 is a Saturday. So if the world comes to an end for a couple of days, it'll be OK. We've all had weekends like that.”1 More presciently, John Koskinen, …

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