ON JANUARY 1, 2000, you might wake up, turn on your lights, take a shower, use the phone, and drive to the grocery store. Or you might not if Y2K, or the millennium computer bug, brings the world's economic systems to a halt.
Many people say that the gravity of the Y2K problem has been exaggerated. But some experts tend to be more pessimistic. Testifying before the U.S. Congress, Dr. Edward Yardeni, chief economist for the global investment-banking firm Deutsche Morgan Grenfell, warned, "There is not enough time to fix and test all the systems, with billions of lines of software code around the world, that need to be fixed."
A large part of the problem is that the numerous computer systems keeping our governments and economy going are highly interconnected. Said Dr. Yardeni, "The sum total of all interdependent computer systems must all be compliant. The network is the computer. A problem in one system could trigger a domino effect. … The networks that must function perfectly at the risk of partial and even total failure include: 1. Electrical power systems, 2. Telecommunications, 3. Transportation, 4. Manufacturing, 5. Retail and wholesale distribution, 6. Finance and banking, 7. Government services and administration, 8. Military defense, and 9. International trade."
Although Dr. Yardeni didn't include agriculture or food-processing in his list, the Gartner Group, in an ongoing survey of 15,000 companies and government agencies in 87 countries, claims that agriculture and food-processing companies are among the most delinquent in their efforts to make their systems Y2K compliant. Shipping companies are not much better. In January 1996, Charles Parks of the Union Pacific Railroad said, "To convert these programs, we estimate that it would require … 100 staff years. The problem turned out to be much larger than we had realized."
In July, Richard Lugar, chairman of U.S. Senate Agricultural Committee, noted with frustration that the U.S. Department of Agriculture projected it would be Y2K compliant by the year 2002. And Dr. Yardeni told the agricultural committee, "We are especially blind about the possible problems that will hit the global food supply in 2000. … I suspect the Y2K technological problem could significantly disrupt the food-supply chain."
The Y2K alarm gives us a glimpse of just how fragile our modern social system is. Two tiny 0s could bring down the world economy. We've become proud of our economic progress, but Srila Prabhupada reminds us, "Economic development or supremacy over the world can be finished at any moment by the cataclysms of material nature." Will that moment be January 1, 2000? Only Krsna knows for sure.
Modern life rests on a global economy that seems to give us all convenience but is actually a source of unlimited anxiety. Srila Prabhupada explains the best way of life:
By God's arrangement, anyone in any part of the world can live very peacefully if he has some land and a milk cow. There is no need for man to move from one place to another to earn a livelihood, for one can produce food grains locally and get milk from cows. That can solve all economic problems. Fortunately, man has been given higher intelligence for the cultivation of Krsna consciousness, or the understanding of God, one's relationship with Him, and the ultimate goal of life, love of God.
Unfortunately, so-called civilized man, not caring for God realization, utilizes his intelligence to get more than necessary and simply eat to satisfy the tongue. By God's arrangement there is sufficient scope for the production of milk and grains for human beings all over the world, but instead of using his higher intelligence to cultivate God consciousness, so-called intelligent men misuse their intelligence to produce many unnecessary and unwanted things.
The Nectar of Instruction, Text 2, Purport
Srila Prabhupada's statement reminds me of the Bengali villagers I saw working in the fields with their oxen. What will they be doing on January 1, 2000? They'll get up, bathe in the Ganges or at a village ghat, go to the temple to worship Krsna, come back home, hitch up their ox team, and go out plowing while singing Hare Krsna. Computer chip? Never heard of it.
Formerly the editor of Hare Krsna Rural Life, Hare Krsna Dasi is currently compiling a five-volume series of Srila Prabhupada's teachings on varnasrama and farm community development.