By Harry McCracken
If ever a decade began dumb, it was this one.* When clocks struck midnight on January 1st and the dreaded Y2K bug turned out to be nothing but a mild irritant, it proved once again that the experts often don’t know what the heck they’re talking about.
Which was a relief–and a fitting way to kick off the technological era we’ve lived in ever since. Yes, it’s been an amazing time. But it’s also seen more than its share of misbegotten decisions, bizarre dramas, pointless hype, and lackluster products and technologies–often involving the same people and companies responsible for all the amazing stuff.
*Yes, we’re aware that the decade didn’t really start until January 1st, 2001, and doesn’t end until December 31st, 2010. Shhhhh.
1. Well, at least I wasn’t killed and eaten by the roving hordes of homeless yuppies. Were you?
Whouda thunk it? It turns out that the world has addressed the Y2K problem remarkably well. Those who predicted widespread starvation, utility failures, medical emergencies, and financial catastrophy probably feel a tad sheepish. And/or disappointed.
2. And it only took them a decade to undo it.
AOL announces that it’s agreed to buy Time Warner on January 10th, a media megamerger that creates an Internet content juggernaut that never quite gels. $260 billion of the combined companies’ $300 billion market cap dwindles away over the next decade before Time Warner rids itself of a vastly less important AOL.
3. Hey, Robinson Crusoe was lonely, too.
On January 19th, top-secret startup Transmeta says it’s shaking up the chip world with its power-efficient Crusoe processor. The CPU’s performance disappoints, Intel cooks up low-power technology of its own, and Transmeta faces delisting from Nasdaq before selling out to a company which then goes out of business.
4. Not the first press release full of fiction, and not the last.
Press-release service Internet Wire is hoaxed by a former employee/community college student who uses it to distribute a fake release saying electronics firm Emulex is restating its earnings. The company loses $2.5 billion of value and the student pockets $250,000 by shorting its stock before being arrested.
5. The “Me” is short for Mediocre. Or maybe Meh.
On September 14th, Microsoft releases Windows Millennium Edition (aka Windows Me). A follow-up to the popular Windows 98 SE and the last gasp of the rickety Windows 9.x platform, the slow and buggy Me goes on to earn the distinction of having the ugliest reputation of any pre-Vista version of Windows.
[This post is excerpted with Harry’s permission from his Technologizer blog.]