FDR had an answer for Y2K
A great man once said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Funny how Franklin D. Roosevelt saw this whole Y2K thing coming so many years ago.
As the year 2000 gets closer, the focus has begun to shift from technology itself to potential human reactions. Computers may not crash all at once, but what if people do?
“Anxiety and fears among many are rising,” said Kelly Cunningham, a spokesperson for the Division of Independent Practice, a division of the American Psychological Association. “One poll suggested that 25 percent of Americans believe the Y2K issue will affect them directly.”
Fear of uncontrollable events is not uncommon. Even without Y2K, anxiety disorders are one of the most common reasons that people see a psychologist. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly 25 percent of the adult population suffers at some point from depression or anxiety.
The APA is also looking ahead to Y2K. Its Division of Independent Practice has begun a program in which it offers a psychologist to visit those areas which request it, to discuss Y2K phobias and ways to overcome them.
Pat Hines, a PhD of Philosophy and Psychology who is based at the UC Davis Medical Center, is one of those licensed psychologists. Her practice consists mostly of couples and family therapy, with some health psychology.
“Most of the Y2K anxiety I’ve seen has been with the programmers,” said Hines, who resides in Sacramento and earned her PhD at the University of Oregon. “There are lot of stress and overtime issues that these people are dealing with, connected to companies’ efforts to make their systems Y2K compliant. Programmers can be fairly obsessive to begin with. Now they’re really under the gun.”
Among the general public, however, there aren’t a lot of people coming into Hines’ office with Y2K on their minds.
“That could change, though,” she said. “As the year 2000 gets closer, a lot of news programs will be starting up with intense coverage.”
Hines points out that the people who see world chaos as a realistic possibility are not likely to come talk to her.
“These people are not likely to see a therapist,” she said. “The people who see Y2K as a possible end of the world are people who may feel disenfranchised, who want to be survivors. They want to feel that they see something that the rest of us don’t.
“This ties in with some fundamentalist Christian beliefs. These people on the fringes of society may have big fantasies about people getting what they deserve.”
There is always a certain portion of the population, says Hines, who don’t believe that anything is as good as it could be.
“These tend to be the people who store food and water in the basement,” she said. “Then there are the people who don’t think anything is going to happen at all. Probably most people are in between.”
Hines says that people with true anxiety disorders tend to get stirred up by news events.
“Some people get totally frightened at things on the news,” she said. “Good examples are the Apollo 13 mission, or the Gulf War. (TV news networks) are very good at teasing these events, and some people add their own fantasies into that. A lot of people get keyed up. They can have panic attacks, where they get this huge adrenaline rush. My job is to help these people hold the whole thing in perspective.”
Hines sees the potential Y2K anxiety phenomenon as something similar to what happened when the U.S. entered into the Gulf War in the 1980s.
“At the start of the Gulf War, a lot of people had these horrific visions of what could happen,” she said. “Many times with these types of patients, I tell them to turn off the TV.”
No matter what happens as the year 2000 approaches, panic is our worst enemy, says Hines.
“As far as Y2K is concerned, I advise people to remember that we are technology,” she said. “No matter what we build, there are people behind it, and if it breaks, there will be people trying to fix it.
“The example I like to use is Apollo 13. Something went wrong with the system, but there were people on the ground working to fix the problem, and they did. They got home safely.
“If we approach our technology problems with that spirit, then we will make it true.”
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