Bugs and Dwarfs

Report by Arthur Bueno about the Y2K? panel discussion at DEAF98.

How much more should there be said about the millenniumbug? Type in Y2K in any search-machine and you are flooded with exaggerations and denials, doom scenarios and software fixes. It is a sign of the times: a front-page headline in the Guardian this week shouting ‘Army Prepares For Bug’, next to the smiling face of Monica Lewinsky. Should we store food, dig wells, buy guns? Or will we simply reboot on January 1st after we’ve slept our hangovers away?

DEAF98 invited a group of experts to help us assess this predictable accident, this self-inflicted disaster. Daniel Ockeloen (from the VPRO, a Dutch broadcasting company) tried to explain the problem technically and Hans Nijman (millennium project leader in the city government of Rotterdam) shed light on the local battle with time. According to Michel Knops, involved in several Y2K-pilot-projects for the Dutch millenniumplatform, the problem is not about the two missing digits or the leap year. He sees the real danger in the attitude taken by government, companies and individuals towards Y2k, in ignorance and fatigue, in what he called ‘the Lewinsky effect’.

The bottom line: nobody really knows what will happen, what accidents are in preparation in the micro-world of streaming bits. They were being prepared right behind the speaker’s backs, where a bunch of dwarfs was jumping around. The Micromen had full technical control over sound and image and could make voices suddenly pitch or echo, and have well prepared Powerpoint-presentations collapse into strange images. Home! They shouted, when an image of a redheaded nuclear mushroom appeared. Meanwhile artist Perry Hoberman tried to minimize the damage. He was frantically trying to install a program called Y2K-OK, the definite fix, on his computer, but gradually got lost in the outrageous and time-consuming program instructions. The last speaker, journalist Simon Davies, had the most worrying viewpoint. How the UK-government had since long given up on solutions and concentrated on panic control, trying (but failing) to silence too alarming media-coverage. It didn’t stop him from unfolding a quite convincing doom-scenario. Dwarfs or elves didn’t disturb Davies. They seemed to agree with his concerns, or were just too busy preparing for the final countdown. After a canon shot the Micromen took over control completely, jumping around in a very loud stroboscopic inferno for what seemed forever, until at last their finest hour had ended. Relieved the panel tried to pick up, or actually, start the discussion. But by now, time had run out.

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