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Looking Backward

February 2024
1min read

AT CENTURY’S END, RETROSPECTIVE THOUGHTS TO ILLUMINATE THE WAY AHEAD

As the last day of 2000 approaches, Americans will be reminded increasingly often that not just a year but also a century and a millennium are coming to an end. If history is any guide, we can expect a torrent of parties, lists, discussions, and reflections on the eve and ensuing dawn of a new era. To put it all in perspective, “History Now” takes a look back at the last time America celebrated the end of a century—in 1999:

Doomsayers predicted widespread computer failures, transportation tie-ups, power outages, and network crashes (although this last prediction, in 1999, was about as risky as forecasting rain in Seattle).

Deceptively large holiday sales by socalled dot-corns unloading merchandise at huge discounts gave rise to false hopes that a bunch of 23-year-olds would reorder American society by selling mail-order goods via computer.

Readers of the New York Post chose Bill Clinton as the second-most evil person of the millennium (Hitler was first). Salon called the Sex Pistols “one of the 20th century’s best bands.” American Heritage included Bill Gates among the top 20 innovators of the century.

Referring to the expected heavy load on the nation’s telecommunications systems, a federal official described the approaching century turnover, with a quintessentially 1990s mixed metaphor, as “Mother’s Day on Viagra.”

And finally, all millennium-related thoughts and activities instantly vanished by around 6:00 A.M. on January 2. Within a couple of days, even the most tiresome office humorists had stopped making jokes about “first cup of coffee of the new millennium.”

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