Lightbulb Go Out? Don't Rush to Blame Y2K

Things get fouled up every day, says a White House report. Why expect this January 1 to be different?

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Living through the last 12 months of pre-2000 hysteria has driven most Americans to one of two mental states: Advanced paranoia, which will culminate in spending New Year's Eve in a small, lead-lined hole in a remote field — or acute apathy, manifested by prolonged yawning and a profound desire for the whole thing to be over and done with. For those remaining citizens vacillating between panic and nonchalance, the White House released a statement Monday designed to quell any nagging fears: Things will go wrong on December 31, 1999, says Clinton Y2K guru John Koskinen, but the vast majority of mishaps will be due to ordinary, everyday glitches, unrelated to the calendar date.

This means that for most of us, getting through New Year's will be a piece of cake. Thanks to the airlines and local utility services, we've had lots of practice dealing with electrical outages and computer errors; happily, we've lived through most of them. "People in this country need to worry a lot more about the effects of drinking and driving this New Year's Eve than they do about Y2K," says TIME techonolgy writer Joshua Quittner. And that's exactly the kind of attitude the White House wants us to keep in mind as we inch toward the big moment: Computers crash, bags are lost and airplanes are late every day of the year. And there's no reason to think that New Year's Eve will be any different. Unless, of course, the rigorous preparations of the last year have smoothed our operating systems to the point that this winter, no home will go without heat, light or cable television. Now that would be worthy of a celebration.