The Devastating Y2K Bug

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September 4, 2014 by tpizzle14

The Y2K bug took the world by storm in the late 90s, bringing apocalyptic thoughts and fears into the minds of many. But what was the infamous “Y2K Bug”? The fear was based on concerns that computers may not recognise the year moving forward into the new millennium 2000 and may go back in time to 1900 as all the software had been dated to run in the 20th century. Many feared this would cause a global shutdown of all computer systems resulting in social chaos and rioting. Computer memory space was expensive twenty five years ago so software programmers programmed the year part of the date to contain only two digits, while fixing the first two digits of the year as “19” to avoid the expense of four changeable digits. This is what lead to the confusion of the Y2K bug. 


Computer with Y2K on screen carring a 'End is Near' sign


Whilst this ‘crisis’ may seem ridiculous to our 21st century society it is important to reflect back on people’s grasp of big data back in the 80s and 90s. Not many people understood how data was collected and what it did, leaving many governments, businesses and even the general population to invest large sums of money into Y2K computer fixing software as well as skilled software programmers to rewrite codes in the computer. An estimated “$300 – $600 Billion, total global cost was spent to resolve the “bug” and “on December 11, 1998, delegates from 120 countries met at the National Y2K Coordinators Meeting to discuss the crisis.” This highlights how catastrophic the Y2K was perceived. 

Reflecting on the Y2K crisis I found it interesting to see how many people took on this notion of futurist thinking and acted on it, gathering supplies such as food and water, preparing for what they thought may be the end of the world as they knew it. The misunderstanding of big data was so incredible that even the United States of America, Government body FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) issued a “consumers guide to prepare for Y2K.” This organisation likened the Y2K bug to something as devastating as a hurricane or tornado telling people to be prepared for anything. People purchased survival guides and hid away during the New Year celebrations fearing the computer dependent world would shut down around them. Of course as the year 2000 began nothing devastating happened with the odd minor glitch reported in some business and household computers.



A Y2K Survival Guide


I find big data a much more frightening topic today. As the phrase goes, “Google knows everything.” All of my movements online are recorded and any picture or video I upload is forever stored in a server somewhere. Despite laws allowing us to stay anonymous online, it seems almost pointless as companies can gather information on us without even needing or knowing our names. The other point I find distressing is how reliant we are on computers, highlighted in the Y2K crisis. I believe that we as a society are too immersed in and connected to the digital age, becoming more and more dependent on computers and whilst I do not think that this is necessarily a bad thing I believe that a better knowledge of big data, (what it is? how it’s stored? how it’s used?) will help us to interact with this digital world of ours.   




Quetek. 2006. The Y2K Scare. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 02 September 14].

FEMA. 1999. Y2K Preparation Guide. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 03 September 14].

About Education. 2010. The Y2K Bug. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 03 September 14].

Marshall Brian. 2008. How the Year 2000 Worked. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 02 September 14].


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