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Does anyone know the bottom line on Y2K?

My friends often ask me questions they feel I can deal with, since I'm a computer science major and thus, a "techno-geek".

The questions range from what kind of computer to buy to the more esoteric ones where they try to stump a computer science major.

But recently, the most popular questions have been about Y2K.

"On the eve of the new millennium should I avoid flying? What about bank transactions? Cashiers' checks, is that alright?"

Government officials like U.S. Rep. Stephen Horn (R-Calif.) have attempted to answer these questions.

Horn released his final report card earlier this month rating different government agencies on Y2K readiness. The White House received a B+, a marked improvement from the D Horn gave it a few months ago by Horn, and most agencies received an improved marking. But there still was some possibility of failure, Horn declared, including the nation's air traffic control system.

Some government officials responded by saying that the allegations were unfounded, since the data used in determining the grade of readiness was outdated or not sufficient.

So who's right? It's a complicated question that doesn't necessarily get a simple yes or no answer.

Obviously, the role of computers in today's society is incredibly large. And all of the technology is connected, so although someone may claim that they're 100 percent Y2K compliant, they still have to deal with potential problems that may be beyond their control. For instance, Wachovia has declared itself ready for Y2K. But a power outage or an Internet server going down still would create problems.

Beyond actual compliance, however, the psychological and sociological aspects of Y2K also can be paralyzing. For many, the strong belief of planes falling from the sky has resulted in a decreased number of flights during the last night of the 1999.

Federal Aviation Administration Director Jane Garvey proclaimed her confidence in the airline industry over the New Year, and planned to prove her point by flying across the country during that time. Yet she just can't find a flight. Her original flight was canceled, but according to an FAA Public Affairs specialist, she still is planning to take her flight out of Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C., to San Francisco on New Year's Eve.

What many people jokingly called the end of the world in a religious sense has grown into a new fear -- fear of technology.

The number of trips to amazing concerts or Times Square that my friends have canceled is large enough that I wonder if New Year's crowds will even materialize.

The fears aren't just of technology, but also of potential riots and other civil unrest; the media's contributions to the hysteria certainly help raise levels of anxiety.

Nike's recent commercial showing a jogger running past flames, police cars and other disorder paints a picture of potential chaos. Increased reports on the news and on talk shows all add to an image of impending Y2K problems.

As the New Year approaches, I'm not sure what to tell my friends when they ask about the effects of Y2K. Integrated computer systems such as the country's electrical and information networks, people's general anxiety about the millennium, and the media's role in promoting Y2K fear are just so complex that even a computer scientist can't make the call.

(James Tsai is the Cavalier Daily Health & Science Editor.)


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