For centuries the year 2000 was a potent symbol that represented “the future”, and for good reason. A change in millennium is nothing to be scoffed at. It is, by definition, ten times more significant than a plain old turn-of-the-century.
Speaking of turn-of-the-century, it’s funny what people in 1900 thought the year 2000 might look like. A series of illustrations by French commercial artist Jean-Marc Côté commissioned by toy manufacturer Armand Gervais et Cie for the 1900 Paris Exposition predicted winged fire fighters, scuba divers riding giant seahorses and an underwater school bus towed by a whale. There were also lots of mechanical contraptions and much personal ballooning predicted. All rather quaint and improbable, although the depictions of classroom learning via headphones and remote audiences for theatre were actually quite prescient.
Long term business planning horizons got shorter as we approached 2000. If you are old enough, did you notice that? In 1992 they were eight year plans, but by 1997 they had become three year plans. The Year 2000 had been the finishing line for so long, it’s as if people dared not project beyond that round number … until they really had to.
The year 2000 took on a whole new sinister vibe once people realised that its onset might potentially crash computer systems all over the world due to the fact that, for reasons of bit economy, many programs represented four-digit years with only the final two digits, making the year 2000 indistinguishable from 1900. The so-called “Y2K bug” was a thing, and lots of people took it very seriously. A lack of clarity regarding the potential dangers of the bug led some to stock up on food, water and firearms, purchase backup generators, and withdraw large sums of money in anticipation of a computer-induced apocalypse. Armageddon was in the air. But then (thankfully) it all turned out to be a bit of a fizzer. Phew!
So, what else about the year 2000?
According to the musical comedy duo Flight of the Conchords, the year 2000 (“the distant future”) was the year that robots took over the world by killing all of the humans with poisonous gasses. Listen HERE.
Also, for many years the US late night show host Conan O’Brien performed a faux futuristic segment called In the Year 2000 that featured him and sidekick Andy Richter (or a guest) … both wearing black smocks, alien neckpieces; awash in green light with faces uplit by torches. Amusingly, the sketch continued well beyond 2000 … and it wasn’t until the 3 June 2009 airing of The Tonight Show that O’Brien finally succumbed to the pressure to rebrand it as In the Year 3000 complete with more futuristic-looking outfits consisting of large metallic collars and a series of blinking lights. Watch the final 4 January 2010 performance of that segment HERE.
Finally, Paris-based architect François Scali is a long time and much loved friend of REMO/Remo. He was commissioned by the Cointreau Foundation to design the “Genitron” a large digital quartz clock that counted down the seconds remaining to the year 2000. It was inaugurated in 1987 by the President of the Republic, François Mitterrand; and for the following 13 years it took pride of place, first in front of the Centre Pompidou (Beaubourg), and from 1996 on Place de la Bastille in Paris, reminding us all of just how long we had to wait for the future to arrive.
There was a kiosk at the foot of the Genitron that could produce a souvenir postcard printed with the number of seconds remaining; and maybe the smartest thing that François did was make its takings part of his deal as the commissioned designer. Travelling Remo fondly remembers being in Paris with François in those years when he would be able to detour past the Genitron to unlock the machine and fill his pockets with the coins that would ending being used to pay for the evening’s drinks.
Story Idea: François Scali (with Remo toasting the future over some Picon Bière)
1. The Genitron at Centre Pompidou in Paris, counting down the seconds to the year 2000
2 to 6. Jean-Marc Côté, "France En L’An 2000 (France in the Year 2000)," 1899. Commissioned by Armand Gervais et Cie, public domain. Photo courtesy of Type Punch Matrix, Silver Spring, Maryland.
7. Newsweek cover, 2 June 1997
8. Weekly World New, 15 September 1998
9. Video: Flight of the Conchords, Robots ℗ 2008 Sub Pop Records. Released on: 22 April 2008.
10. Video: "In The Year 2000", Late Night with Conan O'Brien, 30 December 1999
11. The Genitron
12. François Scali at home in Paris with Picon Bière, 3 January 2023