The Amazing Grace of Y2K
Margaret J. Wheatley
If you don't know the kind of person I am and I don't know the kind of person you are a pattern that others made may prevail in the world and following the wrong god home we may miss our star
-William Stafford, from "A Ritual to Read To Each Other"
There are great teachers moving among us. They are not individuals, but events we have created from our beliefs and practices about how the world works, or how we want to make the world work. These events are now upon us, emerging as forces larger and stranger than anything we imagined when we chose the gods we would follow home. As teachers, they go by many different names. Here are only three: global warming, environmental degradation, and the year 2000 problem (Y2K). While there are many other great ones, these three teach the same lesson: we are one world, woven together in intricate ways, forced now to confront the consequences of how we choose to belong to the planetary community.
Among these teachers, Y2K has been my particular guide since April 1998. I felt compelled to become involved in Y2K because, for years, I had been studying and writing about systems thinking, technology, and human behavior in organizations and in times of crisis. In Y2K I saw many of the issues that had engaged me in my earlier work. I knew that Y2K was far more than a simple computer problem that could be fixed by programmers. As a system's problem, I knew Y2K could not be contained, limited in its effects to only a few organizations and systems.
And the ironies of Y2K were-and continue to be-- compelling. Our ardent worship of technology and science has led to our enslavement. We are confronted with the fact that we have become the servants, terrifyingly dependent on the technology we have created to serve us. A second irony was the Y2K time bomb that ticked off the first-ever, nonnegotiable deadline. After many years of believing we could negotiate with time-seeking to collapse it by our demands for speed, ignoring it as necessary to any growth process, attempting medically to prolong life-suddenly, for this generation of arrogant negotiators, time stands adamantly at the threshold to the new millennium, barring easy entry. And we have done this to ourselves because we have been too busy to ponder a future described by a four-digit year.
Since working with Y2K, particularly in the area of community preparedness, my initial understanding of what is happening has swelled large, then receded into confusion, leaving me alternately peaceful, frantic, expectant, and resigned. But I welcome this teacher. Because of the year 2000, I have been provoked to explore deeper and less certain places. The amazing grace of Y2K is that it illuminates so many different dimensions of modern life. I still see through a glass darkly, but some aspects of this culture aren't quite as hidden as they once were. This has been a spiral journey that began with my growing awareness of the physical systems that weave our contemporary world together, and now has moved into realms of the invisible, raising questions about the human spirit and the greater movement of Spirit in this time.
did not know how this world works before Y2K. I had virtually no awareness of what it takes to support my life, to sustain me and many others on this planet. It has been a great gift to learn that every major component of our modern infrastructure is supported by dense networks of systems and equipment, each of which relies on computers to perform its functions. These computerized systems manage everything: transportation, power generation, manufacturing, telecommunications, finance, government, education, health care, defense. Our reliance on technology has created a world whose efficient functioning in all but the poorest and remotest areas is dependent on computers. It doesn't matter whether one personally uses a computer, or that many people around the world don't even have telephones. …