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Y2K: The Winter of Our Disconnect

Well, we can pretty much rule out any technological meltdown from the dreaded Y2K bug when we welcome that new millennium in a little over two months. According to this condescending and dopey hour hosted by author and cybergeek Robert X. Cringely, our only legitimate fear is the emotional reaction to the uncertainty of it all. In other words, Y2K is really just U2Paranoid. Pop a couple of Prozac and fuggedaboudit. Whew! That's a relief. If only it were that simple.

With:
Host: Robert X. Cringely

Well, we can pretty much rule out any technological meltdown from the dreaded Y2K bug when we welcome that new millennium in a little over two months. According to this condescending and dopey hour hosted by author and cybergeek Robert X. Cringely, our only legitimate fear is the emotional reaction to the uncertainty of it all. In other words, Y2K is really just U2Paranoid. Pop a couple of Prozac and fuggedaboudit. Whew! That’s a relief. If only it were that simple.

The punny “Y2K: The Winter of Our Disconnect” has Cringely reassuring everyone that Jan. 1 will not find planes dropping from the sky or our communications system reverting to pre-Alexander Graham Bell levels, tending to dismiss the looming crisis as mostly a really big misunderstanding. There’s nothing wrong with allaying public fears; but at the same time, his common-sense approach crosses the line to evoke almost a sense of belittlement.

And who the heck is Robert X. Cringely, anyway, to have all of the answers? His simplistic “This is a computer chip” style tries hard to be homespun but winds up instilling the feeling that Cringely is merely an extension of a government bureaucracy that’s wired to reassure the citizenry at all costs. Panic, after all, would only exacerbate the problem.

Cringely borrows liberally from cheesy black-and-white B-movies to make whimsical points about how our Y2K mind-set is aping the atomic paranoia of the 1950s and ’60s. Lots of tedious talking heads get trotted out to help focus on all of the things that will probably go right on Jan. 1 (911 systems will work, water will flow out of the tap, toilets will flush, checks will be accepted by the corner grocery store).

“The important thing to remember is all life will continue!” exults Cringely while touring the hamlet of St. Helens, Ore., to see how the little guy is preparing for cyber catastrophe (not terribly actively, it turns out). He tests Boeing flight simulators that handle the concept of Jan. 1, 2000, just fine. A thrift shop owner admits she doesn’t think much about Y2K, since, well, the town would remain essentially the same without computer operation, anyhow.

Producer-director Michael McLeod, who co-wrote “The Winter of Our Disconnect” with Cringely, also grabs a few words from the requisite survivalist or two for their very own hell-in-a-handbasket views. And while those folks are cast as being clearly overzealous, what if they aren’t? What if, for once, their fallout system and three-month supplies of freeze-dried beef stroganoff were necessary?

Nothing presented in this special leaves the impression that any of the participants know much more about what the new century will bring in the way of cybergeddon than do the rest of us. It must be our cue to avoid the rush, and start worrying today.

Y2K: The Winter of Our Disconnect

PBS; Tues. Oct. 26, 8 p.m.

Production: Taped in St. Helens, Ore.; Baltimore, Md.; and other cities by Oregon Public Broadcasting and PBS. Executive producer, Janet Tobias; producer-director, Michael McLeod; field producers, Beth Dulik, Nick Ludlow, Simon Maddox; associate producer, Crystal S. Miyake; writers, McLeod, Robert X. Cringely.

Crew: Editors, Bruce Barnow, Howard Beckerman; music, George Hood; sound, Michael Carter. 60 MIN.

With: Host: Robert X. CringelyPhotography, Brett Wood; editors, Bruce Barnow, Howard Beckerman; music, George Hood; sound, Michael Carter. 60 MIN.

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