Historical Context

The Y2K Bug
Carson published Men in the Off Hours early in 2000. New Year’s Day of that year, January 1, 2000, was a monumental event in human history. Actually, it was a monumental non-event. For several years before the clock ticked over to 2000, scientists and computer programmers warned the world of the potential madness and mayhem that could be caused by the Year 2000 bug, commonly known as Y2K. The problem stemmed from the technological confusion that many computers were expected to experience when trying to read the year 2000 in their coding. This problem was initially created in the 1950s, when the first computer data was stored on cardboard punch cards. Because space on these cards was limited, and since dates were used repeatedly in many computer programs, programmers made the decision to limit the year date to two digits, with the first two digits of the year implied (For example, 1957 was recorded as 57.) This practice continued into the 1990s, long after computer storage space, or memory, became cheap and plentiful. The problems started to surface in the early 1990s, when some computers began trying to process year 2000 dates. In some cases, the computers interpreted the date as 1900 and used this faulty information in their calculations. In others, the computers malfunctioned or shut down. With help from the mass media, this problem was hyped up, and some people thought that the world might undergo a technological armageddon. The business world spent billions of dollars attempting to make their computers Y2Kcompliant, some people moved their families to self-sufficient farms, and others simply made the decision to cancel New Year’s plans and stay home. In the end, however, New Year’s Day 2000 went off without a hitch.

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