Given that the new year is almost upon us, it’s time to start really considering whether “2016” will spell doom for computer systems. I mean, it won’t, but it’s as good a time as any to revisit a classic VHS tape where Leonard Nimoy helps families prepare for Y2K. After all, there’s no telling when a computer glitch of our own making could basically end the world, right?
See, the year 2000 (which is what Y2K stands for) was predicted to have a potentially catastrophic effect on computer systems. The basic problem is that the way years were stored in some computers didn’t allow for the year 2000. Rolling over from 1999 could have theoretically caused many of them to behave in unexpected ways. The fear was that this could affect important systems like, say, the electrical grid.
Which is why the Leonard Nimoy-narrated family guide to Y2K is a kind of ridiculous artifact now, but then? You can hear it in Nimoy’s voice that this is a terribly serious affair with potentially dire consequences. There were lots of questions about what would happen, if anything, and the world at large seemed to approach it with tentative concern. It’s not like your average person understood (or even now understands) the inner workings of computers.
And it’s not like Nimoy was the only one to get on the Y2K train. Conspiracy theorists had an absolute field day with the looming potential threat of Y2K. Even TIME magazine got in on the frenzy. Doomsday preppers were in full swing, stocking up on the essentials and anything else they could get their hands on. The needless panic and fear of the thing is what sticks out now, and both of those were present then as well — but with a side of “this could be real” to make it worse. While the Y2K date change did cause some problems, the mitigation beforehand prevented issues from being as widespread as had been feared.