There was once a COBOL programmer in the mid to late 1990s. For the sake of this story, we’ll call him Jack. After years of being taken for granted and treated as a technological dinosaur by all the UNIX programmers and Client/Server programmers and website developers, Jack was finally getting some respect. He’d become a private consultant specializing in Year 2000 conversions. He was working short-term assignments for prestige companies, traveling all over the world on different assignments, and making more money than he’d ever dreamed of.
He was working 70 and 80 and even 90 hour weeks, but it was worth it. Soon he could retire. Several years of this relentless, mind-numbing work had taken its toll on Jack. He had problems sleeping and began having anxiety dreams about the Year 2000. It had reached a point where even the thought of the year 2000 made him nearly violent. He must have suffered some sort of breakdown, because all he could think about was how he could avoid the year 2000 and all that came with it. Jack decided to contact a company that specialized in cryogenics. He made a deal to have himself frozen until March 15th, 2000. This was a very expensive process and totally automated. He was thrilled. The next thing he would know is he’d wake up in the year 2000; after the New Year celebrations and computer debacles; after the leap day–nothing else to worry about except getting on with his life. He was put into his cryogenic receptacle, the technicians set the revive date, he was given injections to slow his heartbeat to a bare minimum, and that was that. The next thing that Jack saw was an enormous and very modern room filled with excited people. They were all shouting, “I can’t believe it!” and “It’s a miracle” and “He’s alive!”. There were cameras (unlike any he’d ever seen) and equipment that looked like it came out of a science fiction movie.
Someone who was obviously a spokesperson for the group stepped forward. Jack couldn’t contain his enthusiasm. “It is over?” he asked. “Is 2000 already here? Are all the millennial parties and promotions and crises all over and done with?”
The spokesman explained that 2000 had gone, but that there had been a problem with the programming of the timer on Jack’s cryogenic receptacle – it hadn’t been year 2000 compliant, and it was now March 15th of 9999, not 2000. But the spokesman told Jack that he shouldn’t get excited as someone important wanted to speak to him.
Suddenly a wall-sized projection screen displayed the image of a man that looked very much like Bill Gates. This man was Prime Minister of Earth. He told Jack not to be upset, that this was a wonderful time to be alive–that there was world peace and no more starvation–that the space programmed had been reinstated and there were colonies on the moon and on Mars-that technology had advanced to such a degree that everyone had virtual reality interfaces which allowed them to contact anyone else on the planet, or to watch any entertainment, or to hear any music recorded anywhere.
“That sounds terrific,” said Jack. “But I’m curious. Why is everybody so interested in me?” “Well,” said the Prime Minister. “The Year 10000 is just around the corner, and it says in your files that you know COBOL”.