A Year 2000 Parable
There was once a COBOL programmer in the mid to late 1990s. For the sake
of this story, we'll call him Jack. After years of being taken for granted and treated as
a technological dinosaur by all the UNIX programmers and Client/Server programmers and
website developers, Jack was finally getting some respect. He'd become a private
consultant specializing in Year 2000 conversions. He was working short-term assignments
for prestige companies, traveling all over the world on different assignments. He was
working 70 and 80 and even 90 hour weeks, but it was worth it.
Several years of this relentless, mind-numbing work had taken its toll on
Jack. He had problems sleeping and began having anxiety dreams about the Year 2000. It had
reached a point where even the thought of the year 2000 made him nearly violent. He must
have suffered some sort of breakdown, because all he could think about was how he could
avoid the year 2000 and all that came with it.
Jack decided to contact a company that specialized in cryogenics. He made
a deal to have himself frozen until March 15th, 2000. This was very expensive process and
totally automated. He was thrilled. The next thing he would know is he'd wake up in the
year 2000; after the New Year celebrations and computer debacles; after the leap day.
Nothing else to worry about except getting on with his life.
He was put into his cryogenic receptacle, the technicians set the revive
date, he was given injections to slow his heartbeat to a bare minimum, and that was that.
The next thing that Jack saw was an enormous and very modern room filled
with excited people. They were all shouting "I can't believe it!" and "It's
a miracle" and "He's alive!" There were cameras (unlike any he'd ever seen)
and equipment that looked like it came out of a science fiction movie. Someone who was
obviously a spokesperson for the group stepped forward. Jack couldn't contain his
enthusiasm. "It is over?" he asked. "Is 2000 already here? Are all the
millennial parties and promotions and crises all over and done with?"
The spokesman explained that there had been a problem with the programming
of the timer on Jack's cryogenic receptacle, it hadn't been year 2000 compliant. It was
actually eight thousand years later, not the year 2000. But the spokesman told Jack that
he shouldn't get excited; someone important wanted to speak to him.
Suddenly a wall-sized projection screen displayed the image of a man that
looked very much like Bill Gates. This man was Prime Minister of Earth. He told Jack not
to be upset. That this was a wonderful time to be alive. That there was world peace and no
more starvation. That the space program had been reinstated and there were colonies on the
Moon and on Mars. That technology had advanced to such a degree that everyone had virtual
reality interfaces which allowed them to contact anyone else on the planet, or to watch
any entertainment, or to hear any music recorded anywhere.
"That sounds terrific," said Jack. "But I'm curious. Why is
everybody so interested in me?"
"Well," said the Prime Minister. "The year 10000 is just
around the corner, and it says in your files that you know COBOL."
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