A Year Ago: Jane Wakefield - Welcome to the new millennium

First published: Fri, 07 Jan 2000 14:41:00 GMT

Now that the millennium has passed with minimal disruption from bugs and viruses, can we look forward to a cooler, better future? Or does an Orwellian dystopia await?

So it is finally here. Another day, another millennium and the good news for computer geeks is -- technology looks set to become the new rock and roll. No TV can be turned on and no magazine opened since the millennium clock struck twelve without some "expert" discussing the huge impact technology is set to make on our lives in the 21st century. Like we didn't know that already.

It will keep us younger, give us more leisure time and permeate our working and social lives, we're told. While those working in technology have known that for a long time, now it seems everyone wants a piece of the action. An explosion of so-called futurists jawing on about the boundless possibilities of science and technology have appeared on TV and in newspapers up and down the country, like the idea of progress is a 21st century invention. One such futurist, called (and I kid you not) Faith Popcorn, appeared on CNN ad nauseam over the millennium period telling us how our kids will have much better lives than us.

When you are recovering from a millennium-sized hangover and trying to look with optimism towards the Arthur C Clarke future, the last thing you want to hear is how much longer the new generation will live, how much less time they will have to devote to work, how much more fun they will have in their spare time with their virtual headsets. Blah, Blah, Blah.

One of the things that struck me in all the predictions written and discussed over the last week is the profound lack of anything really new or interesting being revealed. We will have smart fridges, work from home, access the Internet via mobiles and handhelds. Wow, is this really the best the 21st century has to offer? Leonardo Da Vinci said once that what one man could conceive, another man would make reality -- and this coming from the man that conceived helicopters when flight was considered well and truly the preserve of birds.

What worries me is that in the information age, when all the words and images we could ever possibly need are at our fingertips, we have lost the power of our own imaginations -- which in its way contributes to the development of new technologies as much as technical know-how ever will.

The only new 21st century technology that has made me sit up and take notice so far has been the announcement that surveillance is to be extended to our cars. With CCTV on every high street and railway station, cameras at work and data held on us at every ATM and supermarket in the country, the possibility that we will soon be watched and in our cars and even have our driving speed controlled is quite a frightening one.

Even Winston Smith escaped the Thought Police by going into the countryside, but we it seems will not be so lucky. Now a Sunday drive in the country will be tracked by satellite. While the system which would see satellite tracking put in every new car is heavily hyped as a speed-reduction and life-saving device, it does also mean that every car can be tracked down and pinpointed anywhere in the country. While anything that eliminates the need for speed humps is OK by me, I can't help feeling distinctly uneasy about this technology. Something is screaming from my privacy gene "DON'T LET IT HAPPEN."

No column about the shiny new millennium would be complete without mention of our old friend, the millennium bug. It has, it would seem, behaved itself very well and not caused any mischief at all. But just when Action 2000, the government-funded UK bug busters, thought they could give themselves a well-deserved pat on the back, the daggers are out. "What a waste of money," the detractors cry. "The biggest hoax the computer industry has ever pulled," they add. The Cuban government describes the Y2K crisis as a capitalist conspiracy. And there can be no doubt that there will be quite a few Y2K managers with a little more money in their wallets as a result of bug panic and quite a few businesses out of pocket. However, it does seem a little unfair to blame Action 2000 -- damned if they fixed it and damned if they didn't.

UK business spent an estimated £20bn fixing the bug, while the more laid-back Italians spent a mere £35m. Neither country has experienced major problems, so maybe it was all a waste of time. But bug or no bug, the hindsighters moaning on about the over-spend are generally the same people criticising the UK for not doing enough to combat the problem before the date change. Please clear the room -- I smell hypocrisy.

Personally I feel sorry for the Y2K staff who will now find themselves out of a job. While Action 2000 have been given until May to collect their P45's, there will be a whole lot of Y2K managers twiddling their thumbs and watching Richard and Judy as we moan about returning to work post-millennium. Still there is still February 29th to look forward to -- the next date predicted to throw up bug problems -- so maybe they can keep their jobs a little longer.

And finally, I just want to point out that I myself was a victim of the millennium bug. I woke up on New Year's Day feeling very unwell indeed. Now I wonder why that was?

Read Rupert Goodwins year 2000 predictions on AnchorDesk

What are your thoughts about our shiny new millennium? Tell the Mailroom. And read what others have said.

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