Tools and Technology are what separates us humans from the "lower" animals. I'm not entirely discarding the opposable thumb and language but even some greater apes and chimps have that. As do some humans who fall a shade shy of the intelligence of these anthropods, but that's a separate story.
It is our inventions (be it oral or written language, guns, pacemakers, mechanical ploughs, electricity, ipods or cars to name just a few) that enable us to enjoy the pleasures of a relatively secure modern life. Want to open a can, there's a can opener for that. If you're really rich or lazy or both, Walmart will even sell you an electric variant so that all you have to do is eat and become lazier. Or, if you do feel guilty and want to beef up or slim down, hit the machines in the gym.
But the biggest, brightest advancement of all is definitely the computer. It is now easier than ever to communicate with friends and family across the globe. Distance has virtually no impact; photos, videos and emotions flow freely, building bridges and connecting people; documents, information, finances are a breeze: a click here, a type there and viola the microseconds of modern magic, enough to marvel millions from a more mundane time for millenia, accomplish our tasks miraculously.
That is, untill your PC's hard-disk crashes.
Einstein once said, "Technological progress is like an ax in the hands of a pathological criminal."
[Image obtained from http://home.wanadoo.nl/lexbennink/GIFS/CARTOONS/cartoon_computer_evolution.htm]
It is mind-boggling how dependent we have become on technology. It took a laptop crash to really bring it in to perspective. I lost all my cherished mp3s and pictures and tons of data. My addressbook was wiped out. I had some backups, but not all. It's taken me a good week to get back up and running at 90% of what I was earlier.
But let's look at the bigger picture for a moment. Most if not all critical systems today are computer controlled these days: power supply networks, air-craft landing and guidance systems, industry / corporate financial data, terrestrial traffic lights, phone switching networks, the markets, the Internet, communication / positioning satellites. All technologically advanced than just a generation ago and all intimately dependent on a critical, susceptible technology. SHUDDER.
And it isn't just the developed nations that are susceptible to this. No, not any more. The developed world might still have the most lose (can't imagine famine ravaged African countries to suffer an immediate loss just because one GPS satellite can't talk to a base station), but sooner or later everyone will be affected. And not likely in a good way.
I'm not hinting at an insane individual or a group intent on causing havoc. No, i don't think they are the biggest threat because ironically, they too need all this to function and survive now. And they possibly can't get totally around the distributed safe-guards and back-ups already in place. I'm thinking more of indiscriminate, potent natural events which probably offer no warning and no discrimination: e.g. solar flares and magnetic storms. Only nature can produce grand catastrophes of gargantuan scale. And despite our amazing advancements, I fear we are no where close to being ready for an eventuality like that.
Oh well, I'm just going to back up my data and hope for the best. CTRL + S.