So we've changed the calendars - now what?

by Daniel Gwyn

Well it is now January 2000, and civilization as we know it does not appear to have collapsed. Nothing much happened, although a few die-hard panic spreaders are worried about whether computers will properly deal with February 29, 2000, or October 10, 2000. So much for the Y2K bug. So much hype and hoopla has faded like a firework set off at midnight.

At least one type of Y2K bug: the one with computers. There remains, of course, the terminology one. Quiz: 1. What century is it? 2. What millennium is it? Those of you, who answered "Twentieth" and "Second", respectively, can stop reading this article. The rest of you should read closely.

Folks, there is still nearly a year left to both the century and the millennium! 2001 is the first year of the Twenty First Century and of the Third Millennium. Despite all the nonsense about the "New Millennium" and magazines devoting entire issues to retrospectives of the Twentieth century and the like, the fact remains that according to the standard definition of centuries and millennia the last years of each are those ending in "00" and "000", respectively. This definition for time is used by reputable sources dealing with chronology, such as the Greenwich Observatory or the U.S. Naval Observatory.

If this definition is not used then there is a "missing" year from the greater scheme of things, as there was never a year "0". Unfortunately, the world in which we inhabit is such that precise terminology is frequently distorted by ill-informed journalists, aided and abetted by various politicians and other world leaders.

Some claim that the leaders of two major Christian sects think that this year is in the new Millennium based on the Queen's Christmas message and the fact that this a jubilee year for Catholics as celebrated by the Pope. However, a closer examination of both these spiritual and temporal leaders' overall messages reveals that they were simply calling on their faithful and/or subjects to "prepare" to enter the New Millennium, not to actually enter it.

It has been claimed that two academic groups, mathematicians and sociologists claim that the Millennium started January 1, 2000. However, the basis of their claims is both rather suspect. The mathematicians claim that starting the Millennium in the year 2001 is illogical and there should have been a year "0". This argument is pure baloney, as logic has relatively little to do with what has been decided. It would also create a problem for historians, who after all, have to deal with past time. The fact remains that it was conventionally decided that the Millennium begins in 2001 a long time ago and no logic can alter it. Admittedly, the decision was taken before the Christian world learned about the concept of "0" from the Arabs, but in the words of a certain professor: "It is better to be consistent than right."

On the other hand, the sociologists' claim that the year 2000 marks the start of the Third Millennium derives not from any profound logic but from the fact that people believe that it is. This argument has as much overall substance as the Kremlin's reports on its war in Chechnya. The overall intelligence of the general public is depressingly low, as testified by the continued popularity of Michael Jackson, the success of both George Bush Senior and Junior. Furthermore, the public's opinion is very changeable as George Senior found out. Barely two years after winning an extremely popular war, he was emptying out the desk in the Oval Office. As librarians it is necessary, therefore,to ignore transient fads in favour of following properly established rules. It is imporant for conscientious librarians to impose reality upon the general public's over eager anticipation.

We should, therefore, conclude that the events of December 31, 1999 and January 1, 2000 were "merely" a celebration of a profound change in the calendar that has never been truly seen before. (The current dating system (e.g. 1971 AD or Common Era) was not widely used until the late medieval period at the earliest. Prior to that, the common system was to go by the number of years the current king (or queen) had reigned. This system remains in limited usage regarding government legislation and statutes.) The year 2000 is part of the Twentieth Century and the Second Millennium. Those eager for a new century and millennium will just have to wait! This view is consistently with chronology, history and librarian-ship. It also gives us an excuse to "party like it's 1999" again next New Year's Eve!