1999 / 4月
Anna Wang /tr. by Christopher MacDonald
A former colleague was having dinner with some old friends during a visit back to the US before Chinese New Year, when one of them asked: "How are Taiwan's Y2K preparations coming along?" Without looking up from his food, the colleague replied: "Fine. There's no millennial tradition in Taiwan, so it's no big deal, there won't be any problems." In the strange silence that followed this remark, he looked up to see his four companions wearing expressions of incredulity, as if to say: how could anyone be "ignorant" enough to think the millennium bug is no big deal? One of them promptly produced "The Citizen's Guide to the Y2K Problem" from his case and handed it to my colleague, saying: "Y2K's no joke, it's best to get ready for it in good time."
Is it true then that Taiwan is not ready for the Y2K bug because it doesn't understand the problem? Or is it because millennialist prophecies about the return of Jesus do not figure in Chinese culture, so that no-one can get wrought up about the prospect of potential catastrophe triggered by computers failing to recognize the number of the new year?
In fact, the observations above are both right and wrong. Certainly, most people remain unclear about the millennium bug, no matter how much others may rant about it. After all, it seems like a problem for the professionals, and since it's still in the future anyway, why get wound up? But this attitude isn't necessarily linked to the relative absence of belief in millennial prophecies in the East, because the connection between the millennium and the bug is purely a product of electronic year numbering, which has nothing to do with the traditional millennial notions in the West. On the other hand, it is perhaps little known that Taiwan has already invested an enormous amount of resources and effort into combating the problem, and the overall damage projections are fairly optimistic. In industry for example, the goal is to assure that 75% of output value is unaffected. Contingency preparations have long been ready in the infrastructural areas of water, electricity, gas and transportation, while Y2K testing is either in progress or already completed in the critical air safety, finance, medicine and law enforcement sectors.
There is perhaps little that most of us can do about the greater Y2K problem, but we can still contribute. Firstly, we can take a look at our own immediate environments. At work, we should find out what plans are in place for tackling Y2K-how much progress has been made, and is management taking the problem seriously enough? At home, let's give a thought to the communities in which we live, and to our individual rights, keeping records of all financial transactions and medical treatment, and stepping up contact with neighbors and the wider community, in part so that we can collectively oversee the government's efforts, and in part to develop a spirit of common interest in case of any Y2K-related incidents that may occur. This could well be an important opportunity for us to squarely confront the negative aspects of technological development, and to build afresh the universal values of love, shared concern, and simplicity of life.
Considering the Y2K issue in a broader context, we can see that every new technology involves risk. The spread of television brought entertainment and information into everyone's homes, but also led many people to readily turn themselves into vegetables-or even "minerals"-in front of the glowing screen. Mobile phones are all the rage in Taiwan at the moment, making it easier for people to get in contact with each other but further blurring the divisions between work and personal life. Our lives become ever more varied, but also more confusing. How about the overblown reaction to the recent arrival of Viagra on the market in Taiwan, which gave the impression that men here are universally afflicted by impotence? In all of this we can see signs of the news media run riot amid an explosion of information.
When did it start, this peculiar interaction between media and the population, in which everyone seems perpetually involved in either collective mania or collective amnesia? By their nature the news media tend to seek out events and topics that create a stir, yet traditionally they never forgot that they had a bounden duty to monitor and reflect on events. In the late 1990's, however, with a slew of news stations battling for ratings, there has been a marked shift in coverage from quality towards quantity, all in the name of catering to viewer tastes. Yet many viewers have been pushed to the point of disgust by what they see. This month Sinorama takes a critical look at the world of television news, giving news professionals themselves a chance to examine the purportedly chaotic state of Taiwan's media, in the hope of generating some answers.
From the millennium bug to media fever, the common background is that our world appears ever smaller, whereas our problems seem to get ever larger. Today, thanks to the march of technology, we are busier and less satisfied than any previous generation. Is this "progress"? What kind of lives do we really want to lead? What would constitute a real disaster for mankind? These are issues we hope to consider together with our readers, as we turn to greet the next millennium.