Podcast of the week: Surviving Y2K
What was the deal with Millennium Bug? What was happening on NYE 1999?
Dan Taberski is also the documentarian behind Missing Richard Simmons
I listen to a lot of podcasts, and by now I thought I had a handle and understanding on the basic forms that they come in. Chat shows, interviews, personal storytelling, two men talking about films, true crime, fiction and so forth. Surviving Y2K is thematically and structurally one of the most interesting podcasts I’ve heard, simply because it isn’t like anything else I’ve heard before, both in its thesis and its delivery. I also listened to all of it in one night: the rare, addictive binge-listen that comes around only once or twice a year.
Dan Taberski is the host here, and also the documentarian behind Missing Richard Simmons - which hadn’t cropped up on my radar, but now has leapt to the top of my list. Taberski presents us with something of a cultural archeological dig with one question at the core: what exactly was the deal with Y2K and the Millennium Bug? What was happening on New Year’s Eve 1999? This is not a traditional documentary in its structure either – the subjects we meet are not forgotten by the end of their episode, they are mentioned again and again in relation to new interviews, too.
He highlights and explores how little we knew about the internet then, how new it all was: so when ‘computer experts’ said that the changing of the dates from ’99 to ’00 would corrupt all the digital systems we had, many believed them.
There’s a really varied cast of characters: Taberski explores who did the notion of a Y2K virus that would shut down all the banks and computers impact the most. He highlights and explores how little we knew about the internet then, how new it all was: so when ‘computer experts’ said that the changing of the dates from ’99 to ’00 would corrupt all the digital systems we had, many believed them. We hear from apocalypse preppers, survivalists, fanatic Christians in something of a doomsday-cult. We hear from computer programmers who believed the world would shut down, and folks who were cynical at the time, too. We hear from Russia – on New Years Eve 1999, Vladimir Putin gave a major televised speech that marked his ascent to power.
My favourite segment looks at a bank robbery that happens on the last day of 1999: it is so odd and compelling that it almost warrants an entire podcast of its own. Taberski also puts his own personal story of what happened to him on New Years Eve 1999 – where and who he was at the time. This interlude is surprising and heartbreaking – he manages to talk about his own life experience without dominating the narrative, in fact, the podcast benefits hugely from his revelations.
Surviving Y2K is a cultural mystery show that looks back on a time that feels too recent to be history, but is part of our history. There really isn’t anything like it that I’ve listened to so far, and it is a standout podcast of the year for me. This is a perfect listen for the end of 2018 and the beginning of 2019 – a great story for the start of a new year.