Brexit and the Millennium bug

I don’t normally get into arguments with people. In fact I go out of my way to avoid confrontation, but a few days ago I saw a tweet on twitter, sent to an anti-brexit campaigner which I needed to respond to. It stated,

You do talk some hogwash – I bet you would have paid a fortune to have your computer cured of the millennium bug?

I got into a long chain of back-and-forth tweets with this chap about the real problems surrounding the millennium bug but subsequently I found that there is a real correlation between people who believe ‘no deal’ brexit will be fine and those who believe the millenium bug was simply scaremongering. One of the presenters on LBC used the same argument a few days ago, and then Bernard Jenkin did the same thing on Radio 4 the day before yesterday.

Although on the face of it these two events are unconnected there is actually a striking similarity.

The millennium bug was very much in the news in the years and months leading up to 1st Jan 2000. It was going to result in planes falling from the sky, the national grid failing, hospitals closing, supermarkets shelves being empty etc. etc. Many people were seriously worried and expected armageddon on the 1st January, but guess what – other than a few minor problems, nothing happened. There were no serious incidents and everybody sighed a huge sigh of relief and got on with their lives.

And this is how ‘No Deal’ brexit will be, say the faithful. Lots of scaremongering, lots of people worried, but it will come to nothing.

The big, huge problem of course – and the one which the brexit faithful don’t see (or don’t want to see) is the huge amount of work that went into patching computer systems so that there was no millennium bug problem. Developers worked millions of hours across the globe to make sure all the possible problems were fixed before they became an issue. It was actually one of the most successful IT operations in history, but it’s dismissed as being ineffectual because it stopped the problem it was designed to stop. Imagine if people complained the the polio vaccine was ineffectual because there are no longer polio cases! Contrast that with the level of planning which has gone into ‘no deal’ brexit in the UK.

But here’s the connection: The people who dismiss the millennium bug don’t understand IT so they simply ignore the work that went into the fix. In fact, it’s slightly subtler than that; because everyone can use a computer, and has experience of multiple software systems, they assume they know all about it and that the whole issue surrounding the change from 1999 to 2000 was over hyped and just wasted developer time.

And guess what: those that don’t understand the millennium bug issues are the same general type who don’t understand the ‘No Deal’ scenario. In fact, the very fact that they correlate the two shows me more than almost any other issue that they don’t know what they are talking about.


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