Best of the Archives #5: Fin de Cyclical




While we are all hunkered down under the cloud of a global pandemic, the anxiety many of us were feeling in the late months of 1999 regarding the Y2K Bug seems truly quaint by comparison. But it was very real in its time, as legitimate sources predicted airplanes falling out of the skies, global markets and banking systems collapsing, personal computers being turned into expensive paperweights, and a slew of other scenarios guaranteed to create sleepless night and despairing days.

As it all turned out, the actual impact was fairly benign in most cases, although it is hard to say whether that was because the threat itself was overstated, or because the hard work of a lot of people over a short period of time actually fixed the things that needed to be fixed. The outcome certainly allowed laypeople of certain proclivities to claim it was all nothing but media hype, and to ignore any and all future warnings related to computer security and safety, resulting in the wider spread of malware and viruses in the years since than would have been the case had we all taken good computer and data hygiene to heart for the long-term.

Here’s hoping that the astounding work being done to mitigate the impacts of Covid-19 reaps similar benefits, and that even if the global catastrophe does not end up as utterly dire as some experts are forecasting, that we are thankful for the efforts of those fighting the plague, and that we learn something about how to manage our lives and health in an increasingly linked global ecosystem. That’s probably a pie in the sky fantasia at this point, since stupids gotta stupid . . . but we can all dream anyway.

The other things that were filling airwaves, websites, television screens, magazines and newspapers as 1999 wound down were navel-gazing articles about the state of everything at the turn of the century, and what the next year, decade and/or century might hold for us all . (Yes, yes, I know that the new century technically did not start until January 1, 2001, but that number’s not as exciting as the big 2000 was, and the media weren’t going to let a good story line go, even if it was factually incorrect). I was assigned to do a story like that, with a focus on the music industry. I wasn’t really excited about the task, but I set off to figure out how to frame me.

One thing that seemed intuitively clear to me was that the best futuristic forecasts from anybody I talked to would likely be wrong, just given how much the music industry had changed in the decade before the turn of the century. All but the most hardy of record stores died that decade, for example, completely supplanted by file sharing and other online music exchanges, some licit, some not. So instead of looking forward to 2100 and making stuff up, it actually seemed like it might be more interesting to look backward to 1900, just to explain how ridiculously far we’d come in terms of the creation and exchange of music.

I did a fair amount of research into what was going on in the music industry, and also what was going on in Albany circa 1899, and I wrote a fictional piece about an ambitious musician, set in that time and place, dreaming as big as his times would have allowed. Then I interviewed half a dozen music luminaries in various fields around Albany to get a sense of what was going on right there, right then, and knit the two streams together. That compare/contrast — forecasts from 1900 coupled with realities of 1999 — seemed like it might lead to something different that everything else that I was reading on this topic at the time.

You’ll have to tell me whether I was right or not after you read the piece.

Super high tech 1900 music machine. Surely this will be widely used in the future . . .

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