Do you remember the Y2K bug, the computer programming flaw that threatened to reset the digital world to the year zero at the turn of the century? Hospital life support systems might stop. Planes might lose navigation. Everyone’s bank accounts might reset to zero.
The issue surfaced in popular culture in the mid-1990s; it reached fever pitch in the 12 months leading up to the new millennium. And then on New Year’s Day 2000 … nothing.
Phew, that was close. Just as well governments and big business invested millions if not billions in consulting advice to correct the situation. Here was a looming calamity that only geeks could understand. Our job was to comply and to pay up so as to avert disaster.
But I am of course being unfair to the peddlers of Y2K calamity — they were simply feeding the natural market for fear of the future. Why, no sooner had Y2K receded than the threat of pandemic via avian flu and then severe acute respiratory syndrome was scaring us witless. Same modus operandi as Y2K: credible narrative that only geeks can understand. It’s all so terribly empowering for geeks.
Then came swine flu or the H1N1 virus, which promised to wipe us all out. This one scored well on my scare index because of its deployment of cool alpha-numeric nomenclature. Avian flu was never going to sell as well as something called H1N1.
Did I miss peak oil? Wasn’t that going to sneak up and kill us all in our beds early in the 21st century? Must be running late. And weren’t we going to run out of food with so many people on the planet? Something about the Club of Rome? No? No one’s very chatty about this topic these days. Let’s not talk of unrealised scare campaigns and move on to the next threat.
Now I do not want to get a reputation as a global-warming denier but I have to say the whole never-gonna-rain-again thing kinda lost its zing around the time of the Brisbane floods. And the no-rain-mantra has never regained its scare factor. Which would be very disconcerting if you were a geek building a career based on community fear of living in a waterless land.
Look, I am as on-board as anyone else for a jolly good scare but we are running out of credible scary things. Computer bug? Check. Pandemic(s)? Check and check again. Ozone depletion? Oh please, that is so 80s. Peak oil? Check. Financial calamity caused by Wall Street greed? Check.
What the market needs, what the market wants, is a couple of preferably telegenic geeks to surface with an interesting narrative of impending calamity. But a narrative that also offers a way out, the promise of salvation if you like, if we are prepared to invest in — you guessed it — expensive calamity-aversion therapy.
Oh thank you, geeks, thank you. How much do you need to save us from eternal damnation? What is the penance we must pay to preserve our way of life if not our lives?
Do you see what I mean? There is now, and there will always be, an intrinsic and an insatiable market demand for impending calamity.