It's the end of the world as we know it
The closer we get to January 31, 1999, the more sensational will be the hype and the dire predictions, as well as the computer entrepreneurial Chicken Littles. What's unusual about this millennium is that there's a lot more going on from a technological standpoint. Let's face it, except for changes in the politics, there really wasn't much difference between the year 1 and the year 1000. But the year 2000 sees a different planet altogether. There's modern medicine with third and fourth generation antibiotics and laparoscopic microsurgery; jet travel wherein it's possible to eat breakfast at the same time all over the world in one day; information everywhere, for free, via the Internet, and all media going digital. At the same time, we're seeking HAL 9000 by trying to make our machines able to think instead of just being pack-rats for our data.
Remember turntables? You put a record on it and a diamond needle cruises around its in-spiraling tracts, vibrating electrical impulses according to the waves in the grooves of the record. This was called Analog. Now, compact discs have pits burned into them that a laser can scan, which sends discrete stop-and-go values to a computer to translate it into sound. This is Digital, and with are gone the pops, clicks, surface noise, and skips that haunted vinyl records.
But some say gone is the warmth.
They say that for some inexplicable reason the digital music CDs, although having better fidelity, seem to be sterile. Some even go so far as to spurn the new technology and insist on the old analog technology of records. Are these people taking music much too seriously? Are they only imagining the difference? After all, the human ear can hear only as high as about 18,000 cycles (or waves) per second, but the digital CDs go as high as 44,000 cycles (not waves, but values) per second.
We hear with waves. Our ear drums wave back and forth when sound waves strike them. We see in waves, too, all of the visible light coming to us in so many waves per second. We live life through our hormonal cycles in waves, hormones peaking and dipping and peaking again. We even say hello and goodbye with a wave.
We are analog creatures.
We are built to receive and give out waves, from our vocal cords to the way we run. We think and dream and scheme in waves. Our brains are analog.
On the other hand, computers are digital, and the goal of creating a HAL 9000, if we hope to have real thinking coming out of a computer, involves a little bit of human analog processing. Computer scientists are developing what they call "fuzzy logic" for computers. In this method, instead of a stream of 0's and 1's, the computer takes a situation and goes back and forth from data value to another, narrowing in on the best answer. Even though it's still digital, the back and forth method of fuzzy logic smells a little wavy to me. It is the great irony of our age that we as analog creatures seek improvement via the digital route, yet we strive to create the next computer age out of the analog philosophy of fuzzy logic.
And along comes the year 2000 and with it "Y2K." Y2K is an abbreviation for Year 2000. It is a computer concern in that the computing techniques etched in cement in the 80's only allowed two numbers for the year that is assigned to data, as if 2000 would never, never come. Now that we want to party like it's 1999, because it really is 1999, the fun is ruined by the harrowing predictions of the end of the computer world that will have planes crashing, elevators dropping, economies collapsing, and computers paying you your paycheck at 1900 prices.
Fear not: Capitalism always wins.
There's just too much money to be lost by not fixing the problem. Although I don't think I want to be on an elevator when the ball hits at the stroke of midnight, still I'm not going to make a run on my bank. I've got a feeling it's going to be business as usual the next day. What's the alternative? Move to a country that doesn't rely on computers? Would you really want to live in a place like that? You might do just as well staying here where the computers all think it's 1900. As far as I'm personally concerned this won't be a problem for me until the year 2051, since I was born in 1951.
Unless of course it's really the end of the whole world, not just the computers. Religious fervor is being distorted a little by numerology, which is a pagan science if ever there was one. Let me be bold by saying that I think we actually missed the millennium. Now that historians are fairly sure Christ was born a few years before what we originally thought, born before that year that was designated "0," that would mean we're actually anywhere from 2003 to 2008.
Of course the Chinese, several thousands of years ahead of us in the counting, won't sweat out next New Year's Eve. They'll just enjoy their Year of the Hare.
And even if it is the Rapture, isn't that supposed to be a good thing? The faithful can't lose.
Human beings are a superstitious lot. Two-dollar bills never could get into legitimate circulation. The number 13 has it's own mystique. The Seven Seals, 666, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse--the wrath of analog values are said to be preparing for their wrath on the digital age. Society is not unlike a watch mainspring, being wound tighter and tighter with competition for knowledge, productivity, and lower bottom lines. Perhaps a source of our social ills is that there's more subliminal stress in our lives from listening to Beethoven or Cowboy Mouth with digital information going into our analog brains instead of the friendly waves our species grew up with. Progress promises us short-term advances but long-term surprises. Those record-buying purists claim to hear a difference. Or maybe it's just that those who take music so seriously as to try to notice a difference have enough time to actually stop and smell the waves.
As I type this on my computer, it's hard not to laugh at the irony of computers going analog while we're going digital. This startling crossover is the climax of the millennium. The real end of the world is the jump we make to another as we connect up all of our digital computers and try to relate to each other at 44,000 cycles per second instead of the lower audible range.
On New Year's Eve, I plan on being in St. Mark's Square in Venice with my family. We'll see if the reservations to get home fall victim to the one Apocalypse or the other. If it really is the end of the world, I had my last meal in Italy, which would be my first choice for a last meal. On the other hand, if it's just the computers crashing, then my family and I are stuck in Italy eating great. And if I think that it's alright either way, I'm willing to defend this little bit of fuzzy logic.
©1999 Gerard M. DiLeo, M.D., F.A.C.O.G.