2012-12-20 / Views

From the Braver Institute

Depending on where and when you read this, the world will either be close to its end or it will have already ended. Either way it seems someone is always looking ahead to the next end-of-the-world scenario that must happen because they have information that everyone else is overlooking or not taking seriously enough. Usually those making the predictions are psychics, religious leaders, late-night radio talk show listeners, cult leaders, and other crackpots.

This time around, the world will be/has been brought to an end by the Mayans, or at least their calendar. Well actually their calendar isn’t what’s doing it, it is/was some combination of the aforementioned crackpots and their interpretation of the Mayan calendar.

As far as I know this is the last of the major, moment specific world endings that a significant number of the off-kilter are taking any stock in. There are always lesser player predictions, but they don’t garner the attention that these big time world endings get.

The last time the world came to an end, or at least the last time of any serious note, was December 31st, 1999 (or January 1st, 2000 if your clock was running a second or two fast).

The whole changing of the millennium thing carried a double whammy of doom. The worst case scenario was that the world would end. The best case scenario (in the cracked mind) was that all of the computers that run the planet would suddenly think it was 1900 since they weren’t capable of complex processes like flipping the page on a calendar. It seems a little funny to me that we would use these devices to send rockets into space, control advanced weapons systems, and beat Gary Kasparov at chess, yet we couldn’t trust them to wake up on the first of January and not send us back to the end of the Victorian era.

So convinced were people around the world that this was going to happen, that Y2K became a major industry.

My oldest daughter was born in 1999, and I remember spending a lot of time at the hospital that year. Everywhere I looked there were stickers that proclaimed “Y2K COMPLIANT” on anything that contained electronics, computer controlled or otherwise. I have to wonder who was authorized to make such certifications? What were their credentials? How much experience did they have in millennium-change computer technology? Did they have references?

I suspect computer geeks the world over capitalized on this fear and offered up their services to assure the public that the machine that goes PING in 1999 would still go PING in 2000.

Of course there is always the possibility that the Y2K compliant stickers were completely bogus, and hospitals, among other places, simply put them there to put the collective crackpot mind at ease that the heart monitor they were hooked up to wouldn’t suddenly start thinking that it was a steam locomotive and start dragging the patient down the railroad tracks to California.

I worked for a hardware store at the time and can recall an elderly couple who would come in every week or so to buy a gallon of paraffin lamp oil because the lights were all going to go out, and the stuff would cost a lot more when the demand spiked.

This couple also bought a generator to try to keep their world as normal as possible. Actually, a lot of people bought generators that year. We sold out of them and couldn’t get more. I remember seeing catalogs from Northern Tool & Equipment—a large, mail-order supplier of all things mechanical—that proclaimed that they were out of generators, and they did not know when they would get more but people could place themselves on waiting lists. They also made it crystal clear that they would accept absolutely no returns on generators. They knew that if January 2nd rolled around people would start thinking about getting a refund. Even the couple who bought the generator from me showed up in February and asked if I knew anyone who wanted to buy a generator.

As usual, I am getting off track. This is about the end of the world, not just a trivial computer glitch and the panic it promised.

There is real danger to your credibility when it comes to predicting the end of the world. Up until the day it is all supposed to end you may have people taking stock in your prediction. But when it passes, the people who believed you start writing you off as a hack. Take Nostradamus, that guy had the world doomed at the end of 1999. You don’t hear much about Nostradamus anymore.

If we somehow manage to make it beyond December 21st, the Mayans will lose all credibility in my book.

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Waye Braver can be contacted on Facebook or by email at waye@braverinstitute.com.

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