What Y2K can teach us about 2012

Dec. 21, 2012. It's a big day on the calendar, particularly because some believe it marks the last day of the world as we know it.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor

Dec. 21, 2012. It's a big day on the calendar, particularly because some believe it marks the last day of the world as we know it. The apocalypse. Armageddon.

The end of the world prediction spawns mainly from the Mayan Long Count calendar, which terminates on that fateful December 2012 day. I would suggest the Mayans quite simply possibly ran out of ink, or stone, but others believe it foretells the final day of life--though modern Mayans themselves do not believe the date bears any significance.

The mysticism around 2012 led to a Hollywood film by the same name, which paints a chilling scenario of how the December day will play out. In its trailer, the film's producers urged its audience to seek the truth by searching 2012 on the Web. In fact, as part of its viral marketing campaign, Sony Pictures created an entire site describing how Earth was on a collision path with another planet and offering survival kits.

This prompted a commentary in The Guardian criticizing the film's marketing tactics as flawed, and "creating Web sites that make even more spurious claims about 2012".

The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) also took issue with the elaborate hoax. In a report by The Independent, senior scientist at Nasa's Astrobiology Institute David Morrison, said he had received over 1,000 queries from the public questioning Nasa's involvement in the 2012 conspiracy depicted in the film.

Morrison expressed concern over the impact Sony's marketing gimmick has had on people, some of whom believe the "very slick" but "completely fake scientific Web site" to be true.

"I've even had cases of teenagers writing to me saying that they contemplating suicide because they don't want to see the world end. I think when you lie on the Internet and scare children in order to make a buck, that is ethically wrong."

Effective they may be, I don't condone such cheap marketing stunts either, especially when they evoke genuine fear that can lead to real harm. But, fiction or not, it's not the first end-of-the-world prediction to surface, and certainly not the last.

In fact, a quick search on the Net and you'll find predictions that date as far back as the 5th century. George Ure, one of the guys behind the Web Bot Project--which analyzes Web chatter to identify patterns and establish predictions--had predicted a major event would take place Nov. 5, 2009, possibly war between five nations. Waaait a minute, wasn't Nov. 5 yesterday?

And of course, who could forget the year 2000, or Y2K, as most of us fondly remember.

When I began my uni days in Australia, waaaaaay back in July 1994, being away from home for the first time, I was feeling contemplative and thought about the turn of the millennium.

Back then, 2000 seemed an unlikely distant time and I couldn't imagine myself being around, age 26. That became a more plausible reality when I started another chapter in my life, marking my entry into the workforce in 1998.

The IT industry then was already in a flurry over the Y2K bug. Banks, governments and companies worldwide dedicated large amounts of money and resources to upgrade their IT systems and fix the date-related computing design. Failure to do so would lead to catastrophic technological and economic consequences, some cautioned.

Amid the hullabaloo, predictions about the end of the world and World War III, among others, also emerged.

Tech administrators waited in bated breath as 2000 came, and went, without any major system malfunction...and no World War. Even countries and companies that spent less resources prepping for the Y2K bug experienced few problems.

The uneventful turn of the millennium led some to question if the whole Y2K fiasco was exaggerated.

I've been asked that question too, as I made my rounds at media events following the millennium celebrations. And to which I usually reply that it's perhaps due to all the preparations and efforts the industry committed into fixing the Y2K bug, which resulted in the quiet turn of events.

Whether 2012 will mark the end of life isn't really the key issue, is it? If we really thought about it, unless we're immortal, our lives could end any day--regardless of any doomsday, use-by-year prediction.

Human life is finite, whether it's now for some people, in 2012 or the turn of the next millennium. Rather than wait in undue worry, or worse, contemplate suicide as Morrison noted, it would be more worthwhile spending whatever time we have living life to the fullest and trying to fix all that is wrong with it.

In a TV documentary I watched discussing 2012, rather than fear the possible outcome the year beckons, some observers suggest we should instead see this as opportune time to start fixing what we're now doing that's damaging the earth, and that could potentially lead to our own downfall--even if not in 2012, but for future generations.

As Y2K has taught us, being prepared for the worst and fixing what could go wrong, is a whole lot more assuring than throwing in the towel, not do anything and hope we'll come out the better of it. If we prepare for the worst, when D-Day finally comes and the world continues to spin without any major catastrophe, we should see it as a bonus and hope all efforts invested will allow the world to continue spinning for a few more years...well, until the next doomsday prophecy.

Ultimately, predictions aside, we still decide and choose the paths we want to take. Do we want to give in, give up, whine and wallow in self-pity while we wait to see if Earth is indeed on a collision course with another planet?

I, for one, choose not to.

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