Hooray for the 2000 Bug
The other night, like groundhogs on the first day of spring, folks in the neighborhood came out of air-conditioned hibernation and stood on their front porches.
“Did you lose power too?” my next-door neighbor shouted to the little old lady across the street.
“Yes, I did,” she answered, her voice cracking.
Oklahomans are no strangers to power outages. But on this night, there was no thunderstorm or tornado warning. It was just hot and humid. Not the usual conditions for power outages.
“I called the electric company,” my neighbor turned and said to me. “They must have had a transformer or something go out”—whatever that means. “If they don’t do something fast,” he said, “I’m going to my sister’s house. I don’t do well in the heat.”
With only 30 minutes of daylight left, my wife and I hurried inside to finish the dishes and light candles. Time management was top priority.
Turns out, an underground electric cable failed somewhere close to our home. Crews switched electricity to other circuits and power was restored within a couple hours.
The next day, at the office, I read that officials blamed the power failure on heavy summer electric usage. While reading, I noticed my voice mail indicator illuminating. (We had been without voice mail services for several days. Lightning hit a transformer or something.)
The early fraud alert department at Citibank Visa left a message saying there had been “unusual” activity on my account. When I called to investigate, I found that Citibank’s automated menu options had been changed to expedite service. After punching dozens of numbers over what seemed like an eternity, I finally tracked down a Homo sapien.
“Yes, hi,” I said. “I was contacted by your fraud alert department concerning my account.”
“Yes, your balance is $4,239. Does that seem about right?”
“No, not at all.”
She backtracked her way through my statement, beginning with my most recent charge.
“Yes. Yes. Yes,” I said, confirming each charge. “Wait a minute,” I said, suddenly. “What was that last charge?”
“$3,874 for Alodwani Fashion.”
“Yes,” she said. “It looks like it’s a clothing store in Saudi Arabia.”
“Yes, in the Middle East.”
“Oh, I know where it is. But I’ve never been there.”
“You don’t have to be there to make the charge.”
“Okay. I’ve never charged anything to Saudi Arabia either,” I said.
“Well then, as a safety measure, we better close your account,” she advised.
“Does that mean someone illegally used my number?”
“Could be,” she answered. “But that’s not always the case. Sometimes it could be the merchant’s mistake, or even a computer error.”
Could have been a transformer or something.
Turns out, I have to sign and notarize an affidavit and return it to Citibank before their fraud department can investigate the mistake. In the meantime, I have to wait a couple weeks before they can open a new account.
My recent bout against technology’s pitfalls has me wondering. Have we become too dependent on technology? What if a really big transformer-or-something causes the whole information age to come to a screeching halt?
By now, most have heard of the 2000 bug—a potentially massive computer malfunction caused by a simple two-digit date that programmers installed years ago to save valuable computer space and time. The problem is, when 2000 rolls around, only the most recent computers and software will recognize it as such. The rest will roll back to the year 00. The effects of this seemingly little mistake could be widespread, causing traffic lights to malfunction, hospital equipment to short-circuit, government agencies to shut down, and bank accounts to go haywire. Some are saying the bug could even KO electric companies. Our neighborhood found out how that would be the other night, even if only for a couple hours. What about an outage much more widespread? Forget about two hours without power. What about two weeks, or months?
All this talk (along with my technology bout) also has me wondering—do we even need all this technology? What if we didn’t have electricity fueling modern amenities, like lights, appliances and air conditioners? We wouldn’t waste 10 to 20 hours a week on television. More family time. More reading. Without air conditioning, we’d spend a whole lot more time on the porch chatting with neighbors. Without lights or other power-driven appliances, certain tasks would have to be done by sundown. Then everyone could experience the serenity of finishing a day by candlelight, before retiring to bed early.
What if there were no automated menu options, no voice mail and no e-mail? We would then deal with people direct, face to face. Now that would be a real communication boom. That would be the information age.
And what if all credit card accounts were shut down? We could then tackle America’s $1.4 trillion consumer debt. We could cut up more than one billion credit cards. No more debt. No more mysterious charges to Alodwani Fashion. A lot more savings.
In short, life would be simpler, and in many ways, better. Some say the 2000 bug will only be a minor glitch. Others predict something far more “catastrophic.” I’m beginning to think the latter might not be so bad.