The Millennium Bug of the Brain: Or a Small Treatise on the Importance of Nothing

As the computers did not grind to a halt a couple of nights ago, many brains did, overlooking freely, amidst the general hugging and welcoming each other into a new millennium, the fact that the new thousand years hasn’t started yet. And it will not for another 365 days. It is a source of constant amazement to me that in the age when computers can calculate the surface of the Earth to a fraction of a square millimeter in a split second, billions of people, including the political elites and a handful of monarchs have all chosen to ignore a thing the calculation of which is within the powers of a simple abacus.

No, the millennium isn’t over, despite popular artifacts such as the Millennium Dome, the Millennium Island and the Millennium Bug. Yes, we still have to trudge through another twelve months before we can breathe a sigh of relief, close the door after the last one thousand years of wars and famines, and promise to quit smoking sometime in the next century.
How can I make such an outrageous claim (and I’m not alone) and why is it important? Some say that truth is always important, come market crashes and high inflation, but my aim is decidedly not as lofty. I believe that people should know that if they fear repercussions from a higher force they should behave for another year. I don’t decry commercialism and the power of numerical machinations but I believe that in a world run by numbers we should pay attention to not just what the numbers mean on the higher planes of human endeavor but also how many of them there are.
So what happened as December 31 of 1999 swung into January 1 of 2000? Nothing. Aside from the fact that we will no longer start the year with the same number as we have for the last thousand years. Old habits die hard so the recent jubilations were in fact one giant funeral for a habit which is no more. Otherwise nothing happened and we’re still stuck in the second thousand years of this beleaguered era. The only people to whom the switch mattered were computers. Most of them saw light and decided to follow their human creators into the practice of writing the digit 2 at the front of the year. Some did not and decided that it was 1900 after all. Few of these frightened by the prospect of a repeat of this century went mad and either locked up or delivered hundred year old electricity bills to people. Most of them plod benignly on, however, happily unaware of humanity’s algebraic tribulations.
I wouldn’t be in the least surprised at a certain amount of the good old gnashing of teeth among the more impatient of my readers. Why does he go on so, cry one, what does he mean the next millennium hasn’t started yet, wipe the foam off the corners of their mouths others. Here it is. The millennium hasn’t started yet because when all this began, there was no year zero. Yes, dear all and sundry. Two thousand years ago, people were not nursing their hangovers in the year 0 but rather in the early stages of year –1 or 1 BC, if you like. Of course, few were progressive enough to actually call it one before Christ, and rather backwardly clung to counting years since the founding of Rome (by two predecessors of Maugli) and shook hands on the commencement of the 753rd annus since the big event. In fact, this practice continued for a goodly amount of years, and was replaced later by the accession of Constantine sometime in the fourth century, after Rome proved overly popular with crowds of Visigoth tourists. The whole concept of counting years since the birth of Christ wasn’t invented until AD 525 by yet another monk called Dionysius (the name being the early Mediaeval equivalent of Jack) for the purpose of getting Easter right forever more. The one thing old Dionysius did get wrong, however, was Jesus’s birthday. From historical records it seems most likely that Christ was born in 4 Before Christ, unless, of course, he was born in the year 7 after his birth, as other historical records are eager to point out.
Let us trust the erratic Dionysius for the nonce and assume that baby Jesus really first saw the light of day on December 25 of 1 BC (or 752 AUC for the Romans among us). Ok? Now get your abacus ready (in the absence of an abacus, you can invite nine unmutilated friends to lend a hand with their fingers). We all agree that for a full century to pass, one hundred years must also happen in their entirety and it is certainly taking nothing for granted in saying that no millennium is over until its inhabitants suffered through no less and no more than one thousand of full years (or ten centuries). So far so good. So let us start counting. Christ is born, New Era’s Eve comes and the year 1 begins. So the first century only begins on January 1 of year 1 and the first full year of the first millennium isn’t completed until December 31 of year 1. The same goes for number 2 and 3 and 4 and 5 until we come to December 31 of the year 99. How many years have passed in full? Yes, only 99. When did the full one hundred years pass? Yes, at the stroke of midnight on December 31 of 100. And when does the second century really start? You got it! January 1, 101 is the first day of the next hundred years. And so it goes until today. January 1, 2000 isn’t the first day of the third millennium but rather the first day of the last year of the second millennium. I know it isn’t neat but it’s a fact. In fact, as facts go, it is one of the more solid ones because it doesn’t really depend on much more than adding one and one together. So there you are, whatever you were hoping the new millennium would bring, you have to wait until January 1 of 2001.