R/W: The Original Problem Millennial–Y2K

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Word Nerdery

This subject was suggested to me by Gibson Twist of Pictures of You

Every century and millennial end comes loaded with hefty dose of end-times paranoia, bacchanalia, and scoffing. Lately there was the fake Mayan doomsday prophecy and only a scant twelve years before that, our first millennial problem child, Y2K itself.

The Mayan “prophecy” had it that when the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar ended in 2012 — some thousands of years after the calendar itself fell out of use — so too would the world. The world as it was, anyway. So much of the 2012 Phenomenon, and the Mayan calendar panic in particular, was bad research and New Age exoticization. Don’t panic: we’re not living in the shadows of a slowly dying Gomorrah OR the heady first days of a New Utopia. (Weight off my shoulders, let me tell you.) But, as it happens, the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar does not end in 21012, and the Mayans didn’t do much doomsaying.

Silicon Valley’s prophecy, on the other hand, was that the world would end thanks to short-signed developers and engineers who had abbreviated four digit years to two digits, somehow not anticipating a world beyond 1999. (There was also some bullshit with miscalculated leap years, but that sounds more like a terrible romcom than computer-death.) Planes would veer off course. Fire would rain from the sky. I mean, if the planes collided in midair, or something. Schedules would be all out of whack. The world financial system would experience some hiccups. The actual programming pickle was handily solved by international Y2K compliance standards and some all-nighters, but the panic persisted. If there ever was a problem — debate continues.

In truth, Y2K and the Mayan calendar end were crises–real or imagined–of technology, that became crises of culture. Flashpoints for millennial angst, launching think pieces, trend pieces, backpacking trips and pilgrimages. In the space of twenty years we latched onto two bullshit crises that are the inverse of each other, but somehow come to the same end point: kids today, they move too fast for us.

Y2K, that most 90s of numeronyms, more 90s than Hackers and The Net, was coined by a Massachusetts programmer named David Eddy. I don’t know anything else about him, but man did that name have legs. As a phenomenon, Y2K represented the panic-fear of even the old tech gods running aground during a lexical sea change: a new century; a new millenium; a new way to display, read, and conceptualize time. The trains wouldn’t run on time and the kids would have weird hair.

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The Martians are already here. They are our children.

The Mayan calendar prophecy (so called because it sounds so authentic, doesn’t it, so exotic?) was ostensibly a crisis of some of history’s longest thinkers, creators of a calendar that is a technological marvel in of itself, had finally met their end. Forget death, colonization, or cultural change — the calendar was coming to an end and we couldn’t just restart it or something. This was the passing of the old, either the end of or the restoration of a golden age — no one seemed sure. But if only we could slow down from our post-Y2K (aka Millenium Bug, btw) go-go pace, we could… achieve the wisdom of the (othered) ancients.

These days, the end of the world, as far as North America goes, is embodied in persons born between 1980 and 2000ish. And though the data doesn’t support claims that millennials are profoundly different from other generations — skate-boarding, organic-food-buying, bad-work-habits-having Martians, if you will — that doesn’t stop the gloom and doom non-fiction books from coming. They’re millenials, after all. The name must mean something. That or the date.

— Megan P


Links, Links, Links

Ever wondered what Shakespeare’s English sounded like? The Globe Theatre has some idea:

It’s a lot rougher than the sonorous, slow speech we’re used to from today’s classically trained Shakespearean actors. What’s really interesting, though, is the distinct tinge of contemporary English accents. There’s some Norfolk in there, and some West Country (accents which are both associated with rural life and being a bit behind the times), so it may be that those accents just haven’t changed as much since the 17th century.

I’d definitely like to see other plays from around the same era performed with original pronunciation. How would our perceptions of, for example, the villains of Jacobean revenge tragedies be altered if they all talked in that accent? Get on that, Globe folks.

— Kelly


I usually avoid movie novelizations, even though that Terminator novelization I read in my youth included a scene that I will forever hold dear to my Terminator-obsessed heart. I guess I’ve just assumed novelizations to be the crappy counterparts to “real” novels. Why bother to read the same thing you just watched on screen. But Alan Dean Foster offered me a bit of enlightenment: “[…] as [a fan], I got to make my own director’s cut. I got to fix the science mistakes, I got to enlarge on the characters, if there was a scene I particularly liked, I got to do more of it, and I had an unlimited budget. So it was fun.”

So basically, it’s a chance to write official fanfic. Where do I sign up?

— Wendy


Books on their own are wonderful things, but what happens when you transform them into art? Get your book porn on with these astounding book art pieces.

Book Art by Su Blackwell
Book art by Su Blackwell.

And enjoy this book shadow sculpture (hint: look at the shadow on the wall):

Book Shadow Sculpture by Amy Catherine
Book shadow sculpture by Amy Catherine.

— Ginnis

Megan Purdy

Megan Purdy

Publisher of all this. Megan was born in Toronto. She's still there. Philosopher, space vampire, heart of a killer.