Right time, right place

Right time, right place

Imbued with a sense of history, Matthew JC. Powell thinks it's time to plan for the future . . .

On my overseas jauntings a couple of months ago, I spent a marvellous few days driving around the desert in Northern Arizona. Quite the road movie, it was - get my motor running, head out on the highway. Looking for adventure in whatever came my way. I would describe to you some of my life-altering experiences on that trip, but there's a risk, of course, that I would spontaneously transform into Peter Fonda. And from there, there might be no turning back.

The ultimate goal of my travails was to reach the Meteor Crater, near Winslow. It took most of a day's driving out of Phoenix, and it was all I'd hoped it would be - a really, really big hole in the ground with a souvenir shop. For miles around, the landscape is flat, desolate, lifeless and unremarkable. The big hole in the ground is easily the most interesting thing to look at.

Crouching next to the crater, with the dry desert air tousling my hair in a kind of Jeff Bridges way, a horrible thought occurred to me. If I had been on exactly that same spot, doing exactly that same sort of distracted life-meditation, only a mere 50,000 or so years earlier, I might have been killed instantly - vaporised by cosmic forces out of control, merged with tons of iron and limestone to become one with my surroundings. I'm sure I don't need to tell you, this kind of narrow escape has a tendency to put one's priorities into focus.

For a start, it got me thinking about the importance of being in the right place when pivotal moments in history occur. Decades hence, when people ask, "where were you when . . .", it's important to have a good answer to hand. When the Gulf War broke out, for instance, I was watching a repeat of The Dukes of Hazzard. This is not a good answer.

The problem is that you never know when these pivotal moments are going to occur. Most of us don't live our lives doing constantly interesting things. It's difficult maintaining a constantly recall-worthy lifestyle just in case something historically pivotal should occur. As a side note, I have assiduously avoided watching The Dukes of Hazzard for the past eight years - I am determined that no further milestones in my life should include Boss Hogg.

In a few months, though, an historical pivot of some years' planning will occur, and it's high time to decide where you'll be. For normal people, it's the turn of the millennium (correspondence on the subject is most welcome at the e-mail address below, but you ain't gonna change my mind). It's New Year's Eve on a much grander scale, a turning of the digits none of us will see again in our lifetimes (barring future developments in medicine and cryogenics, of course). Normal people have been planning parties and such for years or even decades.

But you and I, dear reader, aren't normal people. For us, this is the Dawning of Y2K. It's when we get to find out whether our computers will actually melt down and destroy civilisation as we know it. Or not. Several IS people I know have the unenviable duty of sitting watching over the computers in their care from the evening of 31/12/99 to "whenever any problems are fixed". That could mean days, I'm told. I'm aware of several companies that have ordered their IS and tech support staff not to leave town during that time, and not to be drinking on New Year's Eve in case they must be called to duty. Dudes, bummer.

"I was sitting in front of a computer watching the blue screen of death at the turn of the millennium" is not a good answer. I'm curious about how my computers will behave next year, of course, but I don't want to waste that moment of transition. It's the moment my grandchildren will desperately avoid the subject of lest I begin rambling again, and I want to bore them silly with something good.

I propose that, instead of sitting and watching our computers gently tick over to next year, we push our luck. A massive, global online party should take place, with the full bandwidth of the world's computer networks exploited. Every mission-critical system activated and running to full capacity, with dozens of Web-cams trained on nuclear silos, air-traffic control towers and dialysis machines. Armed with microphones and streaming audio, we'll hold virtual hands and ride into virtual oblivion singing a rousing, multilingual and mutually incomprehensible virtual chorus of "We'll All Go Together When We Go".

Now that's a good answer.

Matthew JC. Powell is the editor of ARN's sister publication PC Buyer. E-mail him at matthew_powell@

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