The "millennium bug" is not just a technological problem, it is a social and psychological one too, says author and technology expert Margaret Wheatley.
Ms. Wheatley, said in an interview at the State of the World Forum in San Francisco on Saturday (Oct 31) that most people had little understanding of how widespread the millennium bug problems would be. The impact of the bug - known as Y2K - could be huge because technological systems today were interlinked and interdependent.
"Systems of interconnectedness affect every aspect of our life, from how food gets into our supermarkets, telecommunications, being able to turn on a water faucet, having electricity. It has nothing to do with whether you use a computer. The world is woven together based on technology that has computerized components to it. We don't know the extent to which those are going to fail, but we do know that a failure in one part of the web creates an impact in every other part of the web."
Ms. Wheatley conceded that it was not clear exactly how the effects of Y2K would be felt. However, the electricity supply could be one area affected, and this could seriously affect all aspects of life. "It mostly depends on how long we could go without electricity, and whether people have prepared for the event - if people know the lights are going to go out and they've either stored things or as a community are prepared to take care of each other, then that's not frightening. But if they say, 'don't worry about it, the lights won't go out' and they do, then you're going to have looting and hysteria."
A breakdown in the electricity supply could bring life as we know it to a standstill, because it would affect not only the use of our appliances and electronic equipment, but also water, banking and sewerage systems. The health system and hospitals would also come to a standstill because they depended heavily on electrical equipment, she said.
Ms. Wheatley said it was not too late for the effects of the millennium bug to be lessened, if communities got together and decided what systems and people were at risk.
Y2K could also provide society with a timely opportunity to see if people wanted to continue with this "cyber-speed" life, and instead live a much simpler one, Ms. Wheatley said.
"We are organized around an economic set of assumptions about economics and growth, and we've created this very complex world, and now all of that is about to display its interconnectedness. Technology made our interconnectedness invisible, but I hope we can now use technology to create the efficiencies we want without these inter-dependencies."