PEOPLE ARE STILL WORRIED,

BUT MOST ARE GETTING PREPARED FOR Y2K:

Changing Public Attitudes and Behaviors Toward Y2K Across 7 Months

[February 1999 to September 1999]

Larry D. Rosen, Ph.D. & Michelle M. Weil, Ph.D.

Executive Summary

A survey of public knowledge of the Year 2000 Issue, concern about potential Y2K problems, and Y2K preparedness plans was administered twice. The first sample, collected in February 1999 included 1,071 Southern California adults and the second sample, collected 7 months later in September 1999, included a similar sample of 917 Southern California adults.

Results of the first survey demonstrated that in early 1999 the majority of adults expressed concern about the possible Year 2000 failure of government, bank, utility and medical service computer systems. Many planned to celebrate the new year with a stockpile of food and cash.

Seven months later, a similar sample showed that concern had dropped. However, half of the adults still felt concerned about problems with personal computers, and between 40% and 50% were concerned about government computers, credit cards, bank accounts and the social security system computer operations.

Even with reduced concern, one-third of the adults were certain they would have extra cash and food supplies on hand and another third were considering both options.

Interestingly, the two samples showed a decline in general attitudes toward technology (click here for information about our categorization of technology attitudes and here for a review of changing attitudes toward technology in the workplace over the past four years). In February, 1999 23% of the sample rated themselves Eager Adopters, 63% Hesitant "Prove Its" and 14% Resisters. Seven months later, the Eager Adopters had dropped to 20%, Hesitant "Prove Its" increased to 70% and Resisters dropped to 9%. Thus, over the seven months, people became more hesitant about technology, paralleling results found in the four-year workplace study described earlier.

Further replications of these studies are in progress.


For current research reports click here. For summaries and full text of publications, click here. For newspaper and magazine articles click here.

Overview

A survey which assessed Y2K knowledge, concern and preparation plus items addressing technological attitudes and demographic characteristics was administered to 1,071 adults in the urban Southern California area between February 1 and February 8, 1999 and another 917 adults in the same geographic region between September 7 and September 14, 1999. The two samples were multi-cultural and representative of the Southern California area with a range of ages, educational levels and family structures. (click here for demographic table).

The authors have been studying people's reactions to technology for nearly two decades. We have noted that as technology plays an ever-increasing role in our lives, we find ourselves feeling more and more frustrated, uncomfortable, and stressed. That experience is called "TechnoStress." In our book, TechnoStress: Coping With Technology @Work @Home @Play, we describe how technology adds stress to our lives on an individual, group and societal basis. From our extensive studies, we identify seven areas of TechnoStress and offer easy-to-use techniques to overcome the stress so that technology stays a benefit and not a liability:

The entire issue surrounding the Year 2000 is the latest manifestation of Societal TechnoStress. Y2K is adding a tremendous amount of TechnoStress to people's lives. These surveys provide a time-lapse picture of those stresses. Using similar samples of Southern California adults, we examined attitudes and behaviors toward Y2K and technology in general across 7 months. Samples were collected in early February and early September, 1999 which was a critical time period in information flow about Y2K. As early as February, media reports began to appear on national television and in other national media. By September, however, nearly every media outlet was presenting Y2K reports on a regular basis. Based on this change in media, we were interested in assessing any concommitant changes in attitudes and behaviors.

Result Highlights

1. Knowledge About Y2K

The table below presents the level of expressed knowledge about the Year 2000 Issue for both survey periods. Clearly, adults knew somewhat more about Y2K by September with 70% feeling they knew a fair amount or more compared with only 58% in the earlier survey.

Survey Dates

Knowledge About the Year 2000 Issue

"Not at All"

"A Little"

"A Fair Amount"

"Much"

"Very Much"

February 1999

7%

35%

36%

14%

8%

September 1999

4%

26%

44%

18%

8%

2. Primary Y2K Information Sources

The following table shows the percentage of adults in each survey who stated that their primary source of information about the Y2K came from the five categories. The table shows that most adults get their information from the media, particularly television. In the earlier survey, 69% got their information from television, newspapers, magazines and radio. This number rose slightly to 74% in September. The major difference seen here is that over 25% more gained information from television, which parallels the trend we have seen in increased television coverage of Y2K.

Survey Dates

Primary Source of Information About the Year 2000 Issue

Television

Newspapers and Magazines

Friends and Relatives

Radio

Internet and Other

February 1999

35%

27%

16%

7%

14%

September 1999

44%

25%

12%

5%

13%

3. Concern About Potential Y2K Problems

The table below shows the percentage of people from both surveys who expressed concern about potential Y2K problems at the level of "a fair amount" of concern or more. The data for February are in the second column and the data for the September replication are in the third column. NOTE: the potential problem areas are listed in order from the largest perceived problem in February 1999 to the least perceived problem in February 1999.

In the first survey, people were most concerned about problems with Government Computers, Financial Systems, followed by Airlines, Medical Services and Supplies, Home Technology and Home Appliances. In the recent replication, concern about every potential technology problem area dropped, with the average level of concern across all areas falling from 44% to 32%. Interestingly, most potential problem areas fell about the same percentage, staying in approximately order with the exception of the highlighted areas.

Concern about Y2K problems with Personal Computers fell only 9%, making it the largest level of concern for the second sample. Concern about Electronic Mail, Electrical, Water Utility and Telephone Services also fell less than the average. These comprise many of the areas that have received the most recent media coverage.

(NOTE: Entertainment Technology and Kitchen Appliance concern fell only 4% and 8%, respectively. However, this is most likely due to the fact that they were of least concern in the first survey and have reached a bottom plateau.)

POTENTIAL TECHNOLOGY PROBLEM AREAS

February 1999 Percentage Expressing Concern*

September 1999 Percentage Expressing Concern*

Change Across 7 Months

Government Computers

60%

48%

-12

Credit Cards

60%

45%

-15

Bank Accounts

59%

43%

-16

Personal Computers

59%

50%

-9

Social Security Computers

56%

40%

-16

Internal Revenue Service

55%

39%

-16

Airlines

51%

38%

-13

Medical Insurance

47%

32%

-15

Electronic Mail

44%

39%

-5

Hospitals

43%

30%

-13

Medical Services

43%

30%

-13

Pharmacies

40%

27%

-13

Electrical Services

39%

31%

-8

Fax Machines

38%

28%

-10

Home Security Systems

38%

25%

-13

Voice Mail Systems

36%

26%

-10

Telephone Service

36%

27%

-9

Water Utility Service

35%

26%

-9

Food Supply

33%

21%

-11

Entertainment Technology

24%

20%

-4

Kitchen Appliances

21%

13%

-8

AVERAGE CONCERN

44%

32%

-12


*Percentages are based on people who expressed a "fair amount of concern"," much concern" or "very much concern"

4. Plans to Keep Extra Food and Cash on Hand

The table below shows the percentage of people who are certain they will have extra supplies and cash on hand when the calendar turns January 1, 2000. It is very clear from this table that interest in hoarding supplies and money have not lost their lure over the seven months. In fact, an additional 2% were either thinking or certain to have food and cash on hand. As the media continues to report the importance of maintaining an adequate supply of necessities, it is expected that more people will stockpile food and cash. Interestingly, the Red Cross is encouraging people to keep enough supplies to last from several days to a week and Japan's government just announced that it was asking its citizens to stockpile several days worth of food and water. In addition, many governments are having banks stockpile cash including Japan, the United States, Canada, Australia, and Britain.

Survey Dates

EXTRA FOOD

 

EXTRA CASH

"Thinking About"

"Certain"

"Thinking About"

"Certain"

February 1999

31%

32%

38%

34%

September 1999

34%

31%

38%

36%

5. Demographic Differences in Concern About the Y2K Crisis

[NOTE: For further information about Eager Adopters, Hesitant "Prove-Its" and Resisters click here]

CONCLUSIONS

Perhaps the most striking changes that we see across the seven months are the following:

  1. Concern about potential technology problems fell from around two-thirds of the population to one-half or less. HOWEVER, concern about problems with personal computers, e-mail and utilities fell much less. Those technologies that are generating the most concern are personal computers, government computers, credit cards and banking.
  2. Attitudes toward technology in general have also changed with more of the population hesitant toward technology and fewer either eager or resisting.
  3. Slightly more people are planning to stockpile food and money.
  4. More people know about the Y2K Issue and they are getting more of their information from television and other media.
  5. Demographic differences exist and indicate the following:

RECOMMENDATIONS

The seven-month trends in our Southern California study parallel those of other national samples. For example, recent USA TODAY/National Science Foundation surveys, completed in December 1998, March 1999 and September 1999 show a drop in anticipated "major" problems from 34% to 21% to 11% across the 9 month period. In addition, 36% of their sample planned to stockpile food and water, up from 26% nine months earlier.


The United States government continues to provide somewhat conflicting messages. John Koskinen, chairman of the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion says that everything is going fine and the government is ready. However, the CIA recently predicted supply chain ills (Computerworld, October 18, 1999) and the U.S. Senate Special Committee on the Year 2000 Technology Problem recently raised flags about supply chains, health care, local governments, small business, oil and gas companies, nuclear power plants and education (reported in CNET, September 22, 1999). Other reports echo similar sentiments, including admonitions by the U.S. and British State Departments that certain countries should be watched carefully for Y2K failures that may knock out power grids, telephone links and other services.


What can you do to prepare yourselves, your families, your schools, your local governments, your small businesses or your companies from potential Y2K problems? Here are some of our suggestions:

For individuals, families and the workplace:

    1. Make a list of all technology in your home and at work. Contact the manufacturer and get their word (in writing or off their website) that their product is Y2K compliant.
    2. Keep copies of bills from any services for whom you anticipate problems. Our recommendation is to keep a notebook with dividers for each service and place copies of statements, bills, correspondence, website declarations, etc. That way you have clear past performance records to compare to any future statements or bills in question.
    3. Prepare, don't panic. Prepare just as you would for an earthquake, hurricane, winter storm or any other possible natural disaster. Remember, there may not be a problem. Store enough food and cash to get you through a few days. Don't withdraw large sums of money. As we get closer to the end of December, make sure your gas tank is on the full side. Don't top off every day, but it is best not to let your gas tank drop below half full.
    4. Make your plans and then let go of the concern and worry. Once people have compiled a natural disaster survival kit, they are able to push their concerns about how they will fare during and after the disaster out of their minds. Help yourself prepare for potential Y2K problems and you will feel relieved, not scared.
    5. If you are concerned about your personal computer, you may want to purchase a computer program that will assess your PC's readiness for Y2K. Those affordable packages receiving the highest ratings include Norton 2000 (Symantec) and Check 2000 PC Deluxe (Greenwich Mean Time-UTA).
    6. Check in with the Cassandra Project every week or so to see what they recommend. In our experience, their view is the most level-headed of the Y2K sites.

For Your Community:

    1. Help others learn about potential Y2K problems and assist them with their Y2K Plan.
    2. Filter the media. As the year progresses, you will hear and see an increasing amount of sensationalized media proclaiming the potential disasters that will strike on January 1, 2000. Read each with an eye toward how much you feel a particular problem might affect your life and then examine your plan to see if you are adequately prepared.

Additional Recommendations:

TechnoStress: Coping With Technology @Work @Home @Play teaches you how to recognize and eliminate the TechnoStress in your personal life, your communication, your family interactions, your workplace environment and your surrounding community and society. Heed our advice and become TechnoStress-Free. Let's all have a successful transition into the new millennium.

Read more about our research on a potential International Y2K Crisis

Return to TechnoStress Home Page

More information on related topics can be found at either Dr. Weil's or Dr. Rosen's web sites.

E-mail Dr. Weil or Dr. Rosen.