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Fear, more than Y2K itself, is computer expert’s concern

RAYMORE, Mo. (BP)–“The problem is not Y2K — the problem is the fear of Y2K,” said Christian Computing magazine editor Steve Hewitt. “Fear-based Y2K issues could prove to be much worse than any technology-based problem.”
Hewitt, of Raymore, Mo., and a former Missouri Baptist pastor, said he is practically a lone voice in trying to quell the rising panic surrounding Y2K. He addressed Missouri Baptist Convention staff Jan. 6 at the Baptist Building in Jefferson City.
Y2K is a computer programming problem centered around the use of two digits to represent a year. Predictions are that many computers and computer chips will be confused when the date rolls over to Jan. 1, 2000. Besides computer software, “embedded chips” are in everything from coffeemakers to cars.
How bad can it be?
Hewitt said there are two main — and opposite — perspectives:
1) A bump in the road. “This is where I stand,” he said. “It will be a personal inconvenience, almost nonexistent.” There is the possibility of some economic impact. “This will happen because of the panic. The greatest danger is overreaction.”
2) Every aspect of society affected. “This includes utilities, food, banks, communications and even national security.” Some alarmists are saying people should store a year’s supply of food and should cash in mutual funds and certificates of deposit to buy gold.
“One world economic leader is saying there is a 70 percent chance of an economic disaster greater than the Great Depression,” Hewitt said. “Bob Bennett, chairman of the Senate Y2K oversight committee, said early on that Y2K could be ‘the end of Western civilization as we know it.'”
Why such a variety of opinions? Hewitt cited various factors:
1) The information age. Hewitt said the Internet has given anyone and everyone a forum for expressing their views. “Seventy-seven percent of print journalists get their news off the Internet; they’re just reporting each others’ news.”
2) Fast-moving technology. “I won’t do a book on Y2K because it just moves too fast,” Hewitt said. “The information would be old by the time it hit the shelf.”
3) Sensational reports. “There are lots of books and videos out on this subject — people want to sell their stuff. There’s a lot of money being made with Y2K.”
Hewitt noted national Christian leaders — “based on poor theology” — have been major players in sensationalizing Y2K. “Christians are leading the panic attack in America,” he said. “We have a hierarchy of churchless pastors that are saying Y2K is the judgment of God.”
4) Dated material is fueling Y2K fears. Hewitt cited a claim made while he was a guest on Focus on the Family’s radio talk show — that the president of General Motors had said no cars could be made for an entire year after Y2K.
“I asked what the source was, and I was told it was a 1998 issue of Fortune magazine. I checked it out, and no such thing was said by the GM president or anyone else. The real quotation was made back in 1996 that Y2K could cause ‘catastrophic problems’ if not solved in time.” That quotation had been used in the 1998 article, but it had become outdated.
5) Questionable sources. Too many people are citing stories or quotations that cannot be verified. Hewitt is encouraging people to verify sources.
6) Urban legends. “This is what started the panic.” Urban legends are stories that continue to be spread, even though they either have been determined to be false, or can in no way be verified.
Hewitt said he is seeing a turnaround in what leaders are saying about Y2K. An organization often cited by alarmists, the Gartner Group, now is saying there are a number of myths and irresponsible assertions circulating about Y2K and that its effects will be more like a “snowstorm” than the end of civilization, Hewitt reported.
Sen. Bennett, R.-Utah, also is changing his tune. Bennett has been quoted as saying “things are looking up for the U.S. … Even if the Y2K problem is solved, the panic side of it can end up hurting us badly.” At least two mainline denominations, Assemblies of God and the Episcopal Church, have issued statements urging their churches not to succumb to all of the Y2K hype and to avoid, at this time, hoarding food and pulling money from accounts.
Why the turnaround? Hewitt noted:
1) The percentage of affected computers is not as high as once was thought, he said. “The Gartner Group says one in 100,000 chips may have a problem — and then only if they’re running as 00 turns over.”
2) Fears about electricity were exaggerated. “Companies never have been able to guarantee electricity … and no one’s ever been able to guarantee there will be no bugs in your computer.”
3) Y2K effects are spread over a wide time range. “The date problem [is] being solved already, as loans and credit card dates rolled over.” In 1996, credit cards with an expiration date of 2000 had problems at cash registers. So companies had to fix the problem then.
4) Embedded chips (in items such as coffeemakers and cars) now are believed not as great a “wild card” as was thought.
Possible effects? Hewitt listed:
1) Some computer glitches. “This is nothing new; we deal with them every day.”
Addressing concerns about air travel, he said 70 percent of air traffic could go on as scheduled, because controllers use hard copy and graphs as backup to their computer systems anyway.
2) Some economic backlash. “It’s scary that people are being told to pull money from stock markets and banks,” he said. If less than half the customers of credit unions pull $500 more than usual from their accounts, Hewitt said, it will cause a $6 billion deficit, “and they will call in loans.”
He noted banks can declare a “bank holiday” and shut down to prevent withdrawals. This law was the result of the Great Depression, when millions of people made withdrawals and banks ran out of money.
“Twenty years ago, Baptists had Bold Mission Thrust and the Assemblies of God had Harvest of Souls — both efforts to spread the gospel by the year 2000,” Hewitt recalled. “Now we’re stockpiling bullets and food, putting bars on our doors and preparing for a disaster I don’t think will happen.”
Should people prepare for Y2K? Hewitt advised:
1) Prepare for an economic recession brought on by Y2K panic. “At present, I am not making any preparations [for Y2K] except to try to position myself financially for a recession,” Hewitt said.
2) Get a hard copy of your credit report.
3) Check personal computers. He said to contact your computer retailer to find out how to get information to check for Y2K compliance on your system. “The problem most PC owners will have is they’ll have to reset the (computer’s) date to January 1, 2000.”
4) Pray and strive to be informed. “Stay with mainstream sources, such as USAToday, CNN and C-Net.”
Hewitt’s Y2K presentation is being made available by the Missouri Baptist Convention on a cost-recovery basis. Audio tapes are $2; videos are $5, postage included.
Orders can be directed to MBC Media Services, 400 E. High St., Jefferson City, MO 65101; or by calling Ken Satterfield at (573) 635-7931, ext. 354, or 1-800-736-6227; or e-mail [email protected]

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  • Stacey Hamby