Back in January 2000, I had not turned four years old yet. Little did I know at the time that the world was preparing for a new millennium, a fact that flew way over my tiny head at the time.
I almost certainly missed the New Year’s Countdown, probably asleep in my crib as the adults did everything you expect adults to do on New Year’s Eve – drink, eat, laugh, talk about their potential imminent deaths, dance….
Just in case you’ve forgotten (or are too young to remember), the world was allegedly going to end as we knew it on the first day of the New Year. Planes were going to tumble out the sky in an apocalyptic rain (killing everybody) computers were either going to shut down completely or develop a mind of their own (killing everybody), the bicycle in your garage was going to spontaneously fall apart (somehow killing everybody) and the stock market was definitely going to crash (bankrupting everybody), all because the presence of ”00” on a computer screen was enough to send them into meltdown. This was dubbed ‘Y2K’ by the media, and safe to say, everybody was scared shitless.
The year 2000 still sounds futuristic even to this day. There’s a certain sci-fi-esque quality that still holds up two decades later. Indeed, people had been imagining what life would be like in 2000 for a long, long time. In 1960, manned visits to Mars were predicted. ”In international affairs, there will be world peace” – President Truman once wrote. It seems the 21-st century was always a benchmark, a beacon of hope that made the sufferings of back then worthwhile for the promises of tomorrow.
However, the 21-st century hasn’t quite delivered on its euphoric visions. In fact, what was supposed to be the era of peaceful progress has degenerated into the age of mass hysteria.
Twenty years after the non-event of Y2K this phenomenon is still highly visible in the public consciousness. Just twelve years later, we were braced for another ‘end of the world’ on December 21, 2012. You don’t need to know the specifics, but it had something to do with some Mayan calendar signaling the end of the world’s timeline. To be honest, it was very far-fetched, but the amount of discussion it caused was very real.
So, what happened? Why are we, in the age of apparent superiority, so partial to capitulation and panic?
Turn on the news right now and you’ll hear that coronavirus is in your town and you will get it. Not only that, everybody who already has it should be burned at the stake or locked up forever. It doesn’t matter if it’s your neighbor, your baker, your plumber, or your own grandma. These sick people need to be disposed of before we all die. After all, it’s the news. They would never over sensationalize a story, would they?
Ironically the technical wizardry in this modern age is the chief architect of our downfall into frenzy and panic. Of course, it is easy to blame rich media conglomerates and to do so would make this post both obvious and redundant. However, media ethics and 24/7 news aren’t to blame. We are. Although viruses are an issue that affects millions of people worldwide and need to be dealt with swiftly and efficiently, the constant ”we’re all fucked” coverage is something right out of the Y2K playbook.
With new and unforeseen technology comes new and unforeseen problems. Who would’ve guessed in 1910 that the internet would exist and that humans could share information thousands of miles away with a click of a button? Or that every song ever recorded would be available on an online database that doesn’t physically exist? The notion is so far removed from the reality of the time that preparing for its potential problems would have been impossible. We’re still in the growing pains of our 21st-century existence, and the saturation of technology is something we don’t yet know how to deal with. Human beings weren’t designed to check Facebook every twenty minutes, or to watch YouTube for hours, or to masturbate to Japanese goblin-tentacle porn ten times a day.
Human beings are designed to care, to react, and to feel threatened. These are hardwired, intrinsic characteristics that were, and still are, essential to our survival. worldwide. However, news agencies exploit these deeply human traits and blow them up to a massive scale. If somebody is shouting ”you’re going to die” on the news, the human being in you better take it seriously, for your own sake. Now combine our naive human traits with our technological mastery, and we find ourselves in a weird dichotomy, part genius, and part fool.
So, what we do? Do we panic? Or do we try to find harmony between technology and our own well being? The first answer sells but is terrifying, the second one is too much effort. Our attention spans are so low today that we have lost the ability to be pragmatic and immediately resort to the most nuclear option. As of this moment, the news is undergoing a renaissance period that we are all apart of – blogs (like this one), podcasts, websites, live streams, you name it, there’s an outlet for almost everybody now. This sounds like a good thing, but if we don’t appreciate the golden era we are in now, our technology will destroy us. It is well documented that using social media too much can be damaging to our mental health. Perhaps our brains just can’t keep us with this rapid rate of sophistication – the worrying reality is what we should be concerned about most is right in front of us. The real menace isn’t terrorism, swine flu, bird flu, ebola, school shooters, or anything else the media repeatedly tells us about, it is much closer to home than that….
Technology in the 21-st century was envisioned to aid us, but now more than ever it is the other way around. Technology needs us, or we really are in trouble.