CBI Web Exhibits Y2K
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Preparing for an Apocalypse: Y2K

A web resource based on the exhibit curated by Stephanie H. Crowe

Y2K – also known as the Millennium Bug, or the Year 2000 Problem – was caused by a shortcut taken by early computer programmers. To conserve memory space, early programmers recorded the year using the last two digits rather than four. Computers using this system would then recognize the year 2000 as the year 1900 instead, potentially causing serious problems in many different sectors of business and government.

Concerns about the potential impact were extensive. Computers were envisioned breaking down or behaving erractically. With the extent to which computers had by then become a part of so many machines, cars and appliances, the potential problems seemed enormous and some people feared a complete collapse of societal infrastructures. When this did not occur, society moved on and forgot how important a subject this was on a global scale just a short time ago. The materials seen in this exhibit demonstrate a range of institutions and approaches to the Millennium Bug, from governmental preparations to personal disaster planning.

All featured materials come from the records of two Y2K-related organizations held by The Charles Babbage Institute – the International Y2K Cooperation Center and the Center for Y2K and Society – both of which provide insight into this short but fascinating episode in the history of information technology. 

International Y2K Cooperation Center
The International Y2K Cooperation Center (IY2KCC) was established in 1988, according to its records, “at the behest of national Y2K coordinators from over 120 countries.”  As its name states, the mission of the IY2KCC was to promote cooperation – among governments, businesses, and countries – to minimize any serious problems that could arise from the year 2000 date conversion.  The Center closed in March 2000. 

Center for Y2K and Society
The slogan for the Center for Y2K and Society was “It’s not just about computers. It’s about people.” The Center focused on helping nonprofits and foundations to prepare for and respond to the societal impacts of Y2K. Its website in 1999 contained a front-page “breaking news” section listing dire headlines: “Medicaid system at risk of failing in over half of states. Survey reveals most schools not ready for Y2K. Only three states are Y2K ready.”


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