When you think about the aggravation that a broken stoplight or a stuck railroad crossing gate can bring into our daily lives, the Y2K Bug could be quite a catastrophe. Having some of the world's most sophisticated computers acting as if it's 1900 instead of 2000 would cause much bigger headaches than a traffic jam.
On the other hand, I can't help but recall Skylab. You remember 1979 when the fuss then was over a badly programmed space laboratory that scientists feared would crash to earth, but no one knew exactly where. Many people figured, with their luck, Skylab probably would fall on them. As it turned out, Skylab disintegrated harmlessly over the Indian Ocean and an unpopulated area of Australia.
In some ways, the Y2K Bug sounds like an implausible premise for an old "Twilight Zone" episode. People go to sleep on the last day of this year thinking they'll wake up the next morning and it will be 2000. Instead, because the computers are programmed wrong, they wake up and it's 1900.
These people actually might find the world of 1900 not all that different from today. In our industry, for exampIe, they probably would see manufacturers who are just beginning to realize that they are very good at making product - this is the Industrial Age, after all - but not very good at distributing it to their customers.
People waking up in the year 1900 would find new supply houses run by distributors who are very good at getting manufactured goods to customers. These wholesalers would take on large inventories of product, warehouse it and have it available when their customers really need it.
By some quirk, of course, the computers in this "Twilight Zone" episode could send everyone forward to 2100. In this scenario, people would note with irony that electronic commerce is much more prevalent in 2100 despite the Y2K Computer Bug screw-up.
By 2100, much more also would have been written about how manufacturers have tried selling direct to consumers and have experimented with alternative channels of distribution. We're confident, however, that many manufacturers would have discovered that the best way to get their product to the end user still is through a good distributor.
So, while much will be written about the Y2K Bug in the coming year, we really won't know what its impact will be until a year from now. We figure the computer bug probably will be more inconvenient than a traffic jam but somewhat less than a catastrophe.
Still, we don't plan to be riding in a plane, or even in an elevator, at the stroke of midnight on Dec. 31.