Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality 

Calculated Risks
Why I Chose to Fly on Y2K

By David G. Young

WASHINGTON, DC, December 28, 1999 --  

After relishing two years worth of opportunities to ridicule believers in Y2K hysteria, I have found myself in an unusual place -- the majority. An Associated Press poll earlier this month found that only five percent of Americans expect major problems from date-related computer bugs.1

Fortunately for columnists, no stretch of rational thinking can last for long. So it was with great joy that I saw the return of panic as the U.S. State Department warned Americans about acts of terrorism overseas during New Year's weekend. This warning quickly followed arrests of alleged explosives smugglers with foreign-sounding names, and New York City's plan to deploy thousands of extra police and weld shut Times Square's manholes, trashcans and mailboxes. More recently, airlines have begun massive cutbacks of New Year's weekend flights due to a dearth of people willing to fly.

Aaah. The hysteria has returned.

Since this is probably my last chance to rant about this groupthink, I suppose I should go out with a bang. (Trigger-happy federal agents please note: this is just a figure of speech.) Brace yourself -- I plan to spend New Year's Eve in Mexico.

I can practically hear the moans in response. Yes, I plan to spend the date turnover in a third world country in a large crowd where everybody knows I'm an American. Not scary enough? I plan to fly out of Mexico to the U.S. on the morning of January 1, 2000. To sum up my risks: 1. I am spending the turnover in a third world country. 2. I am gathering in a large crowd in a foreign city. 3. I am flying out of a Mexican airport just hours after the date rollover.

For the record, I am not crazy and I do not have a death wish. I recognize that there are risks, but I have calculated what I think are the odds of trouble, and found them very favorable. I recognize that there is a chance of power outages, but I also know an 80-degree climate is where you want to be if one happens. I recognize the chance of terrorism, but I also know that if groups plan to strike, the odds of them getting me in the crowd are low, and the odds of them targeting my crowd are much lower still. I also recognize that there is a chance of major air travel disruptions or even crashes or collisions. But tropical paradise isn't a bad place to be stranded and if one of thousands of planes crashes, it is very unlikely to be mine.

Why, though, even if the risks are low, do I not choose to avoid them entirely by staying at home? Because you can't avoid risk by staying at home. The power may go out in Washington, DC, and I might freeze. I might cross the street and get hit by a car racing through a non-Y2K-compliant traffic light. Life is inherently risky. The risk of death is, given enough time, 100 percent for all of us. To succumb to a bunker mentality in order to try and preserve life a bit longer is counterproductive. The purpose of life is not survival -- it is living.

But just as important as it is to live, it is important to think. Without thinking, life is indeed very short. That's why I don't plan to jump out of a plane for a quick thrill, shoot heroin, or run up massive credit card debts in anticipation of a Y2K-related account erasure. Thinking means weighing the everyday risks we face and making informed decisions to accept favorable risks in return for living a better life. Thinking means rejecting groupthink such as Y2K hysteria in favor of your own conclusions.

This is precisely what I have done. I am prepared to face big time airport delays. I am prepared to be stranded in Mexico for awhile. I know there is a tiny chance that I will never come back. I have thought about it, and this is my decision. And I am the one -- not the crowd -- who has made it.

  1. The Omaha World-Herald, December 27, 1999

Related Web Column: Discarding the Bottom Feeders, August 11, 1998