Anticipating the Year 2000

The arrival of a new millennium has always been fascinating, even during the Middle Ages when poets and contemporaries imagined the year 1000. This occurred again in anticipation of the year 2000, but with slightly different stakes in light of the development of technology.

Imagining The Year 2000…

The year 2000 inspired many TV shows, songs, and books. This is common but it is also intertwined with the development of technology. Progress made in the late 20th century brought many changes in daily lives, and imagining what would happen next was almost unlimited. Whether it be time travel, flying cars, or machines: anything seemed possible. 

A famous representation of the year 2000 viewed by those living in the 1900s is Jean-Marc Côté’s series of paintings: France in the Year 2000. He and other artists painted scenes of what they believed life might look like. These paintings were printed and enclosed in cigarette boxes during the 1900 World Exhibition in Paris and later made into postcards. Many of these visions for the future included mechanized or flying devices, although no images of space travel. Some could be considered closely accurate, like representations of cleaning machines, similar to our vacuum cleaners. Others are still far from what actually happened, like this one of an “Aero-Cab Station”. 

In popular culture, authors and directors all imagined varying scenarios for the next century, and some even extended their visions to depict futuristic and sometimes worrisome 21st-century societies. In Richard Fleischer’s 1973 sci-fi movie Soylent Green (loosely based on Harry Harrison’s 1966 novel Make Room! Make Room!), he envisions a dystopian society in 2022, where cities are overpopulated and humidity is such that no real food can grow. People are condemned to eat processed cubes given to them by the government. This depiction of the 21st century goes to show the fascination of content creators for what future societies would look like, and not simply through the lens of machinery and technological progress. 

… And the End of the World? 

More than simply a source of inspiration for artists, the fear and fascination of the year 2000 also came from factual mathematical concerns. Indeed, the advent of computer technology at the end of the 20th century was accompanied by questions of what would become of computer programs on the 1st of January 2000. 

This is more commonly known as the Y2K phenomenon, or the “Year 2000 Bug”. This panic came from the way computers functioned. Indeed, many computer programs, and especially the earlier ones, were designed to abbreviate four-digit years into two digits: for example, computers would recognize 98 as 1998. The issue was the capacity of recognizing 00 as the year 2000, and not 1900. Although this seems futile, it was a serious concern in areas such as banking or government records because it could potentially lead to software and hardware failures. People were also worried about elevators, and temperature-control systems in commercial buildings or for medical equipment because the computer chips used were at risk. US President Bill Clinton even signed the Year 2000 Information and Readiness Disclosure Act in 1998 to encourage American companies to share data in order to fully anticipate the issue. In the end, very minor issues occurred, but the myth of the Y2K phenomenon still sticks with those who were old enough to remember it. 

All in all, the arrival of the new millennium, coupled with a new century, created a wave of panic but also helped inspire artists to imagine incredible scenarios for what life would be like. 

Dinah Defrasne

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