Beppe Severgnini – Address to the round table on “Communication to the citizen”

By means of celebrating, anticipating, downplaying, forecasting and frightening each other, perhaps we thought we would exorcise the Year 2000 Problem. Wrong!

Date roll over–from two nine to two zero–is close, but it is yet to come. And what about the Millennium Bug, the problem of I.T. system conversion? Demoted to class “3E” (Ex-Exciting-Emergencies) by a “3 I”–instinctive, irresponsible, improvisers–populated nation. Italians, that is. This Italy, inching along toward the close of the century, may well fit the picture of Robert Musil’s early century Austria. There, was the grandiose, useless Parallel Action with its Organization Council. Here, is the vertical activism (top-down, but at the bottom no one knows) of the Comitato Anno 2000. There, were “men of no qualities”. Here, qualities abound. Too bad, be they not the right ones, as we shall demonstrate forthwith.

1. Thoughtlessness. Lack of preparation of many business and services, sluggish government response and widespread indifference suggest that the Millennium Bug problem is being minimized or ignored altogether. It is the very same unfortunate Italian attitude towards Science at play: formal respect, substantial ignorance, unconfessed technophobia.

2. Cry wolf-ism. With this neologism I intend to recall the bad custom of crying out “The wolf, the wolf!”. In other words, the technological apocalypse evoked by the media (water rationing, hospital shut down, airplains falling off the sky) has convinced people that this is but a “bunch of bull”. It would have been wiser to explain that 90% of the problems will materialize within integrated systems, microchips that are hidden inside other equipment; and that, of these problems, only 20% will surface on the midnight of December 31, 1999 (Gartner Group forecast). And, perhaps, that the italian backwardness might help us but will not save us (an old elevator, for example, will have no problems, but a recent one will. But all medical equipment shall have to be thoroughly checked).

3. Bureaucracy. With a poetical locution (half way between Bassanini– Franco B., Govt. Minister–and Leopardi–Giacomo L., among Italy’s great Poets) the president of the Comitato Anno 2000, Ernesto Bettinelli, in addressing the conference, asked himself, “how to reconcile the geometrical unyielding lenght of certain bureaucratic passages with the inesorable ticking away of the days”. He explained, for example, that the money (little) for the “global communication package” cannot be spent due to “contractual glitches”. So much so that, after an ill-fated radio ad (“we are working for you”), nothing has ever been aired since. Following the current administrative path, that money will be available next year. When it will no longer be needed.

4. Lack of planning. We had a late start (one year after the british, three after the americans) and some bad luck. Mr Prodi’s Government fall delayed the installation of the Comitato; and when, at last, this began operating, war broke out in Kossovo (and never be said that we tackle two emergencies at once).

5. Surmise (‘Dietrologia’). That is to say, the suspicion that it is all but a “conspiracy” (hatched by America, the media, the corporate world, Bill Gates, the aliens). And fatalism, the conviction that “nothing is going to happen anyway”. An opinion quite widely held in the Mokambo bars around the Country and–it seems–even in government buildings (some Nato partners, for example, have already lamented the lack of preparation of our defense system). We have reached this paradox, that one has to hope for some (minor) mishaps to occur at the onset of the 2000. Or else, a certain Italy will claim the championship, and that would be a disaster.

To conclude. Italy’s backlog in the Millennium Bug challenge can no longer be made up for via the normal procedures. It must be dealt with as an urgency, as it is. Allow my suggestion: why, in the remaining months, not launch a major information campaign? Someone has. Periodically, in the U.K., Action 2000 buys newspaper space for an update on the “the conformity level of the national infrastructure” (hospital and transportation, industry and services, utilities and security), illustrated by simple traffic light graphics (red, not ready; yellow, nearly ready; green, fully compliant)

Short of funds? I believe major electronic firms would be willing to lend a hand in a case like this.

Buck up, then! We are less then 200 days away.

(traduzione di Ercole Guidi)

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