end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it (TEOTWAWKI). These beliefs and actions, although highly intermingled in the Western world with Christianity, go above and beyond religion and have been theorized to apply consistently to more and more secular groups. (Feinberg 1995) Millennial belief is always conceived of as emotional in nature mainly hope and fear. (Landes: 1997; O'Leary: 1994)
This paper leads the reader down a path toward the goal of understanding the technological threat of Y2K as constructed as a social opportunity for some. At the beginning of this article, and to continue the metaphor, this path, the reader is given three theoretical tools to serve as a foundation to the rest of the argument; first, the general elements of millennial belief and behavior are presented; second, a general explanation of the core defining element of millennial responses as emotional; and third, the connections between millennial belief and behavior and technological change are illustrated. Although both hope and fear are essential parts of millennial belief and behavior, this article focuses principally on the emotion of hope.
In the second part of this article, the reader will be asked to take notice of several examples of this constructed opportunism to either side of the path. Four examples are presented that cover the full range of the socio-political spectrum, from the liberal left to the conservative right; socio-political-environmental opportunities; religious opportunities; survivalist-militia opportunities; and governmental opportunities. The article and path both conclude with the argument that in 1999 for some groups Y2K was constructed as a catalyst for millennial belief and behavior. This took the form of an emotional response to the perceived technological threat of Y2K, mainly hope and fear. While Y2K was constructed as a threat by many. For the groups discussed in this work Y2K became a means to social and political change.
MILLENNIAL BELIEF AND BEHAVIOR
Millennial belief is comprised of images and symbols that have their roots in Judeo-Christian mythology that may be over 2000 years old. These images and symbols have been passed down from, and interpreted by, both religious and secular groups. The core belief is that the current time is flawed, tainted, and evil, and that an event will occur that will destroy the structure of the current time and replace it with a form of utopia. The leaders of the old system will be punished and those that suffered under it will be rewarded in the new system. This belief is linear, in that it moves from a point in time through certain events to another point in time. It is historical in that it sees all of history as part of a plan leading up to the current and future events. It is teleological in that the actions of humans on earth, or actions of deities, lead directly to actions that will bring about the final resolution (Robbins and Palmer: 1997). According to Thompson (1995) elements of millennial belief that are common to most millennial groups are:
- the belief that the world is moving toward a total and miraculous transformation in which old scores will be settled and the Elect rewarded;
- abnormal behavior ranging from a retreat into the wilderness to await the End to acts of imaginable violence designed to bring it about;
- extreme release of emotional energy;
- extreme attitudes toward sexual behavior;
- the identity develops narcissistic self-righteous qualities, and a strong sense of paranoia.
Millennial groups have been theorized by sociologists of collective behavior to arise out of calamity, anomie, deprivation, or oppression (Barkun: 1986; Hobsbawn: 1959; Worsley: 1968; Aberle: 1970; Lifton: 1985; Brummett: 1991; Reid: 1957). The relative deprivation school suggests that millennial groups feel economically, politically or socially deprived. The clash of cultures school suggests that the members of millennial groups have a strong group identity that is in opposition to the general culture. The psychological-anomie school states that the members of millennial groups feel disconnected and anomic within the general culture. Perhaps the most useful school of thought for this work is the disaster school (Barkun, 1974). Each of the groups discussed reacted to Y2K in some fashion. Some subcultures may have seen it as a coming disaster. Michael Barkun (1974) compiled evidence to suggest that disasters serve to predispose individuals to millenarian conversion. Whether millennial behavior is seen as a product of calamity, anomie, deprivation or oppression, it is always infused with emotion.
MILLENNIALISM AS AN EMOTIONAL TRADITION
Richard Landes (1996; 1997) frames millennialism as emotional in nature, one of both hope and fear. Although most of the written evidence in history was written by the dominant, aristocratic elite, not the powerless masses, the documentary evidence for the emotional nature of millennialism comes from the voices of the oppressed against the oppressors. Landes refers to the word, eschaton, to refer to any belief in any climactic, God-wrought conclusion to history in which the good are rewarded and the evil suffer. Since the eschaton brings Godís judgment rather than meaningless annihilation, it engenders feverish activity. This expectation and preparation also has the ability to move fear to hope, but also repentance could change dread to joy, and disappointment could turn joy into sorrow and rage. Apocalyptic expectation is emotional in nature and far more complex than terror alone.
The sociological theorists of millennialism who see it as an emotional phenomena (Kumar: 1995; Grosso: 1995; Desroche: 1979; Landes: 1998) frame the rhetoric of millennialism as based in two emotional responses to the future, both hope and fear. First, as the Judeo-Christian apocalyptic rhetoric that has been carried through the ages, giving hope to the miserable, powerless, and enslaved; and second, the belief that this hope for utopia could only come about through the destruction of the social system, human beings, or the planet itself. This destruction is simultaneously feared and hoped for.
HOPE AND FEAR OF TECHNOLOGY
Technology and computers have been at the center stage of the end of the twentieth century and the end of the second millennium. In the popular press, technology has been the banner around which optimistic millennialists have gathered and also has been at the end of the pessimistic millennialistís pitchfork and burning torch. Technology cannot be regarded as a mere tool of society or its prime determinant. Technology is framed and shaped by the cultures in which it was developed and consumed. This framing and shaping is not without a strong emotional component. Technology and computers have increasingly become infused with both hope and fear. As technology and computers have entered the home and the workplace at an ever-increasing rate, they have been framed as either friend or foe, savior or destroyer by the cultures of the home and workplace. In order to understand the relationship between technology, computers, and emotional millennialism, a deeper look at how technology has been culturally located is essential.
Technology allows for nature to constrain humans less and less. A phone annihilates space for the human voice, television for the human image. Technology itself gets smaller and smaller through the process of miniaturization. Michael Grosso (1995) coins the term "technocalypse" and defines it as the convergence of technology and the apocalyptic imagination. "Science and technology have begun to utterly transform human existence with such things as the atom bomb, space travel, cryonics, bioengineering, nanotechnology, virtual reality, and so on, developments full of apocalyptic overtones" (1995:261). He quotes from the book of Revelation stating that the promise of a "new heaven and new earth" (Rev.21:1) is the motivation of the millennial myth. Grosso points out that the millennium myth has both positive and negative aspects in that the old earth and heaven must be destroyed before the new ones can be built in its ashes. Technology offers the promise to remake all creation, including the human bodies that dwell within it.
Erik Davis (1998) makes a case for the millennial construction of technology He states:
Though the cosmic sense of an ending can be seen as a particular pathology of the historical religions, the eschatological imagination long ago leaked into secular myths of history and scientific progress. Ötechnologies are shot through with myths that frame the story of time, myths of utopia and cataclysm alike. So it should not be surprising that many of the stories circulating about the information revolution feed off the patterns of eschatological thought, nor that technological images of salvation and doom keep hitting the screens of the social imaginationÖ(1998:225).
Davis states that "the scientific and technological development that has characterized Western culture for centuries is infused with millennialist fervor" (1998:259).
Jeffrey Alexander (1992) uses Durkheim's (and Caillois') binary structure of organizing social life to divide objects into sacred, routine or profane (1992:31). Alexander describes the treatment of the first computers by the media as using language that clearly delineates computers as sacred technology:
Arranged row upon row in air-conditioned rooms, waited upon by crisp young white-shirted men who move softly among them like priests serving in a shrine, the computers go about their work quietly and, for the most part, unseen from the public (Time 4/1965, quoted in Alexander 1992).
Computers have also been seen as profane. They have been hailed as "great machines that eat their way through oceans of figures like whales grazing on plankton" (1992:40). They have also been described as roaring like a "hive of mechanical insects" (1992:40). He states that as an object is made sacred by being sealed off from the profane world, gaining access to its power becomes a problem in itself.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of Alexanderís description of computers as sacred and profane is his development of a salvation and apocalyptic rhetoric around those computers. He states, "Computer discourse is eschatological because the computer is seen as involving matters of life and death" (Alexander, 1992:41). On the salvation side, Alexander asserts that a broad visionary ideal of progress was laid out when he states, "Thinking machines will bring a healthier, happier civilization than any known heretofore." "Most human labor will be eliminated, and people will be free to undertake completely new tasks, most of them directed toward perfecting ourselves, creating beauty and understanding one another" (1992:40). On the apocalyptic side, he says that the computer has always embodied the fear and loathing generated by an industrial society. He finds that computers threaten destruction from which humans must be saved. Humans are inseparable from the image of slavery, in which their intelligence could turn them into instruments for massive subversion, leading us to the ultimate horror, "chains of plastic tape" (1992 42).
Alexander also sees this technological discourse as predicting the cataclysm, the final judgment that is technologically wrought.
Computers are Frankenstein monsters, which can Öwreck the very foundations of our society. They can lead to disorders that may pass beyond control. There is a storm brewing. There are nightmarish stories about the light that failed. Incapable of making allowances for error, the Christian notion of redemption is incomprehensible to the computer. The computer has become the Anti-Christ" (Alexander: 1992 42).
Technology and computers have been framed by several authors (Zvegintov: 1998; Brosnan: 1998; Rozak: 1994; Postman: 1992; Haywood: 1994; Tenner: 1996) as having the ability to save or destroy human life. These authors provide examples of cultural studies of technology in which technology had been shaped by culture and has the power to shape culture simultaneously. These authors infuse technology and computers with God-like powers. Y2K is a cultural object that has been shaped by society and in turn is shaped by it. Y2K was a symbol of technology around which millennial belief and behavior formed, infusing technology with powers of salvation and destruction.
These authors provide excellent theoretical tools with which to view the juxtaposition of the millennial change and the Y2K software problem. Millennialism is characterized as a time of strong emotions--hope and fear--accompanied by the threat that the technology upon which we had become so dependent, and characterized as apocalyptic, may have failed us. The Y2K problem posed technology in its most apocalyptic sense, the destroyer of modern life. As with millennialism, some feared this change while others hailed it as an opportunity for social change.
FEAR OF Y2K
To discuss Y2K in terms of the fear surrounding it prior to December 31st, 1999 is a far simpler task than to discuss the hope surrounding it. National news media has been charged with creating fear of Y2K among the masses. To summarize responses to the Y2K problem as they have appeared in journalistic sources is problematic at best, due to their diversity. However, authors such as Charles Cameron, Sean Paige, Steve Davis and Jonah Jones predicted that otherwise ordinary, rational people would "pack up the kids, buy guns, stockpile ammo, load up on groceries and head for the hills" (Jones, 1998:1). Cameron expressed the belief that groups with an apocalyptic disposition would tend to see the Y2K computer problem as a prophetic sign. The widespread reports of Y2K failures would feed a wide range of existing and sometimes paranoid scenarios (Cameron, 1997:1). Paige contended that the social reaction to the Y2K issue would be nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror similar to how Franklin D. Roosevelt described the response to the Great Depression (Paige, 1998). Davis identified the "Doom and Gloom Merchants" who hoped to disrupt the system and cause panic, believing that they can either benefit from the panic itself or the resulting social chaos and social restructuring. This work does not focus on the fear expressed prior to Y2K, but rather the hope that it engendered.
HOPE AND OPPORTUNITY
The goals of this section are to describe and explain some of the ways in which the results of the Y2K software problem may be framed as an opportunity. All of the groups discussed below have certain characteristics in common. They all have an ideology that defines them as a group with a clear agenda. They hold the belief that society is flawed in its present state and needs correction. They represent both the political far left and far right. Further, they use the Internet substantially to spread their messages.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR SOCIAL/ POLITICAL/ ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGE
Some members of the political left saw the Y2K issue as a means, an opportunity to foster social change. Kenoli OíLeary stated "We say that the deepest tragedy is that things might remain the same after Y2K?" (http://www.co-intelligence.org /y2k_cointelligence.html) Individuals and groups that are represented here are activists who commonly posses an ideology that favors activism on the social, political, or environmental fronts. Technology was framed as a tool of those who would harm either humanity directly or harm humanity through the destruction of the earth (intentionally or through negligence). Technology was shaped as the tool that will destroy modern civilization, wielded by an ignorant, adolescent hand. Tom Atlee characterized the present with a warning "Ö our adolescent arrogance will keep testing the limits of our power until we destroy ourselves and our civilization, massively and with immense and pointless suffering. Tom Atlee writes for an organization that promotes "co-intelligence" a concept focusing on community building through sustainable means. Tom as a representative of his organization believed that the Y2K problem would offer humanity opportunities to improve itself that would not have been present otherwise. Tom stated,
Y2K is a peculiar and compelling problem. Many conversations are happening thanks to Y2K, which would not otherwise be taking place. Many of these conversations are opening people up to the possibilities for change--to ways we could improve our society. Among the developments I've seen are these:
- more awareness of our interconnectedness--through our infrastructure, through our humanity, through the natural world that contains us all
- more awareness of the vulnerability of our infrastructure
- more appreciation of the value of local community and place
- more interest in sustainability and sustainable technologies
- willingness to question our dependence on technology
- willingness to question the adversarial nature of our political, economic, and legal systems
- more awareness of the limitations of individual solutions to our problems
- interest in having more citizen control of technological development
- interest in developing greater democracy and capacity for collective intelligence
- questioning what's really important: quantity of stuff vs. quality of life?
- interest in the underlying causes of Y2K
This selection represents the opportunism of the political left. However, all of the following groups equally hope for a political social change, although for the most part they represent the political or religious right.
Although religious opportunists may include all forms of religious belief, the most vocal and highly represented are a small minority of Christian religious organizations, who possess a form of Christian millennial belief. There are two ways in which the Y2K issue has been seen as a Christian issue. First, through the efforts of Shaunti Feldhahn and the Joseph Project 2000, in which the effects of the Y2K computer problem were looked at as an opportunity for ministry. Second, through the efforts of Gary North and others, the Y2K computer problem was framed as possibly instrumental in hastening the prophesized Second Coming of Christ.
Shaunti Feldhahn in her book Y2K: The Millennium Bug (1998), says that Christians should use the impact of Y2K as a catalyst to awaken millions of people and turn them to Jesus Christ. She quotes Larry Burkett, "What an opportunity! If the Churches were prepared with food, water and power, and this thing really happened, and they can say to the community 'Come on in, weíll help you.' What a great opportunity Godís people would have" (1998:106). She states that Christians should not hoard and separate themselves from others in this coming time of crisis (Y2K), instead they should prepare to generously help their neighbors who have not prepared, and lead by example. She believes that once the non-Christians saw the Christians behaving as generous, altruistic leaders, many hearts will accept Jesus Christ that had not done so before.
According to the "Y2K: A Christian Perspective" (anonymous, 1999) the Y2K problem was seen as "An Evangelism Opportunity." The author states:
The year 2000 bug may provide a valuable witnessing opportunity for Christians who are knowledgeable about the subject and sensitive to the spiritual concerns of the people they meet. As media coverage grows, Y2K will become a hot topic around the water cooler (http://www.christiany2k.com/opportunity.shtml).
The Y2K problem is described as another evangelism opportunity. Michael Hyatt states, "I think this is a moment of opportunity for the Church, unlike anything weíve seen for the last 100 years. I think it's not only our Christian duty but our secret weapon to maintain communities. As Christians we already have a natural infrastructure that is there" (http://www.christiany2k.com/opportunity.shtml).
On the other hand, some millennial Christians interpreted the Y2K problem not as an opportunity for evangelism, but as a sign that the end of the world was near. Don Lattin in his article "2000 Computer Bug has Apocalyptic Overtones: Groups Link Glitch to Bible Prophesies" (1998) compares the prophesies of the Great Tribulation (a future period of violent social chaos and the rise of the Antichrist) with the prophesized world crisis that will arise out of the Y2K problem. Lattin quotes from the work of Noah Hatchlings, "Y2K=666,"who believes that the Y2K computer problem will lead to the rise of the Antichrist, the Battle of Armageddon and the second coming of Christ. Lattin identifies the Antichrist with the megacomputer at the World Bank. Hutchings identifies a plot in the rise of global banking, bar codes and computerized mailing lists. He uses a passage from Revelations 13:17: "No one can buy or sell who does not have the mark, that was the name of the beast or the number of its name." The number 666 is associated with the Antichrist and through Hutchings, with the Y2K problem. Lattin frames this view as both a hope and fear for these evangelical groups, in that they fear the Great Tribulation, but hope for the Second Coming of Christ.
Steve Davis, in his article "On Doom and Gloom" (1998) summarizes the major reasons why Evangelical Christian groups might see the end of civilization as we know it as an opportunity. He states that "government has usurped the role of the church, taking for itself the authority to control business relationships, regulates functions of the family, and otherwise restrict individual freedom" (1998:1). If the government were to fall, only the church and Christian law would govern their actions. If the Y2K problem creates enough chaos so that governments failed, it would provide certain Christian groups the opportunity to move closer to the Great Commission(1998:1). Gary North states concerning the idea of the Y2K crisis:
This will decentralize the social order. That is what I have wanted all of my adult life. In my view, Y2K is our deliverance. The Y2k crisis is systemic. It cannot possibly be fixed. I think it will wipe out every national government in the West. Not just modify them--destroy them. I honestly think the federal government will go under. I think the U.S.A will break up the way the USSR did. Call me a dreamer. Call me an optimist (http://www.garynorth.com/y2k).
There seems to be two ways Christians have interpreted Y2K in Christian literature and through the media: first as an opportunity to enhance and expand Christian ministry, and second as a sign that the prophesized endtimes from the Bible are coming closer.
OPPORTUNITY FOR SURVIVALISM, PATRIOTS AND THE MILITIA
It seems that according to the literature there are several markers or criteria that are common to both survivalists and their cousins in the militia and patriot groups (Lamy,1996; Landes,1997; Abanes, 1998; Pitcavage, 1999). These fall into three areas: psychological origins, views of the apocalypse, and views of government and authority. Several authors suggest that the origins of survivalist-patriotic thought lie in fear of the disintegrating "Old World order" and declining American wealth and influence in the world. They feel angry and threatened that their government is taking away their guns and allowing globalism to take away their jobs and threaten their way of life. Second, the survivalists and militia and patriots believe the apocalypse is likely to be man-made, brought about by social and economic collapse, environmental degradation and/or civil or nuclear war. Salvation is not in the hands of a deity but in the hands of the individual. Third, survivalists and militia/patriots possess a deep-seated mistrust of government officials, an obsessive hatred of federal authority, a belief in far-reaching conspiracy theories, and a feeling that Washington bureaucrats have utterly discarded the U.S. Constitution.
In Countryside, a periodical read among survivalists, the authors discussed the survivalist lifestyle using religious sounding terms. If the survivalist lifestyle was followed, then the elect, or chosen people, would be rewarded with survival and happiness. Those that had not chosen the survivalist path would perish or end in despair. It was evident in Countryside that the authors believed that the modern technological lifestyle of the Western world was evil and corrupt and must be destroyed. In the Jan./Feb edition of Countryside J.D. Belanger, stated,
Yes, some of us hope Y2K will be our deliveranceÖas individuals, and as a society. It won't be pleasant, even for the prepared. Think of it as a birthÖof a new age. The result will make the labor worthwhileÖ. If it doesnít failÖweíll be disappointed, but we wonít give up! (Jan./Feb,1999:46).
In the March/April edition of Countryside Bill Ellis wrote:
Y2K may wake the world up to the dangers of globalization; it may remind the world of the community resources we depended on in 1/1/00 (1900), and how they have been slowly taken from us since thenÖ.Y2K is both a challenge and an opportunity (Mar/Apr, 1999:130).
In the May/June edition of Countryside Amy Peare wrote: "Maybe the predicted Y2K disaster would be no disaster at all, but a catalyst to bring us back to the land and each other" (May/June, 1999:11). JD Belanger wrote in the same edition,
My greatest fear is that Y2K will turn out to be a dud. ÖIf we learn something from it (Y2K), if it teaches us how to live and prosper, not by using technology blindly as we have been but by using it wisely and in some cases even selectively, then no matter how many people suffer, it could be a major step forward for society as a whole (May/June,1999:10).
In the July edition of American Survival Guide, another periodical read by survivalists, the book Beat the Beast, Y2K Preparedness Guidebook by Dr. Ted Hall and C.L. Smith, was described as stating that disaster usually brings out the best and worst in people. "If we act now to find alternatives to that technological tower of Babel called the worldís computer system and if we dedicate our time to preparing ourselves to live on our own power, we will give our better selves the opportunity to turn our hell bound civilization around and to get it heading more in the direction of heaven than hell" (1999:9).
Survivalists also framed Y2K as part of a larger conspiracy in which the national, and international governments were attempting to slowly take power and autonomy away from the American people. Y2K was framed as an opportunity for the federal government, the enemy of the average citizen.
For much of the right wing, especially the survivalists, patriots and militia, technology is the tool of the government. They predicted that when technology fails, the government would declare martial law and use Y2K to gain additional powers. Dennis Behreandt discusses how a crisis--real or contrived--could be used by a government as a pretext for expanding its authority. (1998,10) He states "Öfear of an impending Y2K "crisis" could prove to be a greater threat to our economic well-being and liberties than the Y2K bug itself." (1998:11) He believes that the interventions of the government could range from further regulation of private enterprise to a declaration of martial law.
John Farah, editor of the popular Internet newspaper WorldNetDaily in his column "Between the Lines," argued that the Y2K bug was a major problem but has warned that "the government must not use this problem as an excuse to consolidate dictatorial powers" (1998:1). Farah feared that this directive may be put into effect by President Clinton toward the end of his term to ward off the possible effects of the Y2K bug. He believed that Clinton "would attempt to turn such a crisis into an opportunity to seize dictatorial powers" (1998:1).
Around December 31st, 1999 a convergence of three events took place; the end of a century, the end of a millennium and the Y2K computer software problem. Hope is a powerful emotional force and a central aspect of the millenarian behavior surrounding this convergence. Hope for social and political change was viewed among both the political and social left and right, as both ends of the spectrum hoped that the current system would be destroyed by Y2K and replaced by a system more favorable to their personal interests.
Henri Desroche saw utopia and hope as twin sisters (1979:22). The hope that he speaks of is the hope for a different society. The hope is not the physical utopia of socialism, but the collective dream-hope of religious utopia. Desroche describes hope as a rope thrown into the air by a fakir or shaman. Instead of returning to the earth, the rope is held in the middle of the air. The fakir or shaman then climbs the rope and it holds his weight. He equates gravity with social determinism. The rope is like a revelation, a message, a gospel:
To the observer, it seems that there is nothing to keep it up, except for the impalpable and inconsistent words of fantasy, wanderings and absurdity. And yet the rope is anchored. It holds. And when humans grab hold of it and pull themselves up, it takes the strain, it maintains its rigidityÖIf an imagination is thus constituted, it is no less a constitutive imagination, the constructor of social reality (1972:3).
For the left-wing environmentalists, the millennial Christians, the survivalists, patriots, militia and the government that they feared, Y2K represented the rope thrown into the air. It expressed the utopian dream of each group, solidified within the threat of technological annihilation by Y2K.
Millennial hope has the power to change social reality. There have been religious and secular movements who have predicted the transformation of the world on a specific date. The believers will act accordingly, preparing for the moment of the apocalypse. However, "'they are always wrong--the End does not come' but ironically, while these true believers may be wrong, they are rarely inconsequential" (Landes 1998). Although the end of the world does not happen, the hope and the preparations that are made in advance usually produce profound social change. "While the apocalypse they prophesy has never come, in more pedestrian terms, millennialists often succeed: the world is a different place after them. It really was the end of the world as weíd known it" (Landes 1998). The groups who have framed Y2K as an opportunity and infused it with millennial hope, have transposed the religiosity of traditional apocalypticism to a more secular technological apocalypse. Their technological apocalypse offer the same opportunities of a traditional apocalypse, in that each group predicted the end would come and they would be rewarded in the aftermath. Y2K supplied each of these groups with a catalyst upon which their utopian hopes for the future could grow. Their hopes, anticipation and planning for Y2K provided enough fuel to change social reality although Y2K did not have their desired or predicted outcomes. Millennialism is a powerful force that has been an integral part of human behavior for at least 2000 years. The future will be no different.
Each of the socio-political groups discussed here developed radically divergent appropriations of Y2K. It is remarkable how each group generated around itself an "economy of salvation" in which its own subculture was seen as the crucial agent to save society, or at least themselves, from coming or potential chaos. Each placed itself at the center of salvation. For example, among the Christians, if indeed Y2K became part of the prophesized endtimes and God destroyed the world as they had known it, these Christians alone would be in a position to be saved. They would be raptured out of the earth at some debatable point before the final moment. They were the elect to be rewarded for their faith in the new heaven and earth. All of these groups made themselves out to be potential heroes, saving humanity from potential disaster. They placed themselves in a position in which they alone had the power to grant salvation after the coming Y2K crisis. Each group developed a sense of superiority around the subcultural attribute that helped them claim to be saviors. For example, Christian religious ideology and morality gave the Christians a sense of superiority.
It seems apparent that American society in the last years of the twentieth century has become highly fragmented, and that the general wider American culture has become less important in the formulation of attitudes, beliefs and identities than the subculture. I saw evidence for this in the results of my analysis of these groups. In each the members preferred to receive information about Y2K from members representing their own subcultural beliefs rather than from the national media. The national media was distrusted. For example Christian periodicals, Chuck Missler, and the Free American, were preferred and seen as more truthful and honest news sources in each group, respectively. Those offered by the wider American culture were summarily ignored and disdained. This has certain implications for the study of American culture in the future. There is a sort of irony here in that these subcultures existed within a kind of shared culture of fragmentation. They were bound by the fact that they equally distrusted the national news sources and looked inward for subculturally appropriate sources. If we live in a highly fragmented society and our identities and ideologies arise at a subcultural level, then what, if anything, binds us together at the more general American cultural level?
It is ironic that the only attitude that all of the groups held clearly and intensely is a strong distrust of the federal government. The federal government represents the force, perhaps benevolent, perhaps coercive, that binds all Americans together on a physical level through law and taxes, and at a conceptual level through nationalism and patriotism. It seems ironic that the one aspect that these three subcultures do have in common is the distrust of the entity which should bind them together. This is even further evidence of the power of the subculture, and thus that the splintering of American society is on the rise. The power of the national culture and its efforts to unite Americans has lost significant power and influence. In the near future it is essential that sociologists of culture find ways to continue to examine subcultures, for they are becoming the center of cultural change in this new century.
Not for another thousand years will there be a convergence of the end of the century and the end of a millennium. However, as technology has gained a strong, central place in Western society and the world, the threat of technological fallibility will play a strong role in the coming years. The Y2K issue was unique in that it brought together the end of a millennium, a century, and a threat to the technological foundations of our society. Not for many years will there be a convergence of such endings. However as technology continues to claim a larger and more centralized role, not just in American society, but globally, the threat of technological failure must also become central to the study of society. Y2K passed without many social or technological crises, however the seeds of technological doubt have entered the mainstream culture and will continue to operate at the cultural and subcultural levels into the future.
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