The Psychological Challenges of Y2K


| Web Specials Archives


The Y2K computer problem is especially challenging to the traditional rational mind that requires indisputable factual data before it can act. We have watched hundreds of bright, talented leaders wrestle internally with the inherently nebulous, indefinable and unknown consequences of what may happen as a result of the Y2K problem. In one conference of frustrated, fact-hungry political leaders and economic forecasters, understanding Y2K was decribed as 'trying to nail a cream pie to the wall.'

Just as people go through distinct psychological stages when first learning that they have a terminal illness, so people pass through different stages when trying to come to terms with Y2K:

1. Denial. This is the most common response. People think it can't be that serious. Or they think that technical wizards will come up with a magic bullet to fix it just in time. 'Oh, Bill Gates will come up with a solution.' For those who don't think systemically, it's difficult to assimilate the potential severe cascading systemic effects that could result from a loss of power in the electric grid, failures in thousand-mile-long food-supply lines or water- or sewage-treatment plants. Many people have the attitude that 'I don't even use a computer, so why should I care about it?'

The sheer improbability of it all is another barrier. The idea that the most powerful nation on earth and much of the world civilization could be brought to its knees because of some misprogrammed computer codes simply boggles the mind. It is difficult to integrate because most of us simply do not understand how totally dependent we are on computers for everything from our food supply with its computerized 'just in time' inventory systems, rail-delivery systems, to all our financial transactions with every nation in the world.

2. Anger. The second stage is often anger and blaming corporate and government managers for short-term, bottom-line thinking. People ask accusingly, 'How could they be so stupid? Why didn't they tell us sooner that this could be a major problem? How much are they still not telling us? What else are they hiding?'

3. Fear. The next stage can be fear, when people get in a survivalist mode and try to protect themselves--running out to buy and store food, water, and other supplies. They think, 'If I just do the right things I will be OK.'