Ash Friday

Call me misanthropic, but every now and then I delight in the realization that—in spite of our intelligence and technology—humans don’t always call the shots.

Today’s news about the hundreds of canceled flights in Europe once again reminded me how much we take our technology for granted—and how few real options we have when our technology fails.

I feel terrible for the untold thousands whose travel plans have derailed. And I’m absolutely relieved that there hasn’t been any loss of life. But isn’t it amazing to contemplate how something as simple as a little volcanic ash can bring an entire system to its knees?

It seems oddly ironic to me that in our age of modern marvels we can still be forced to wait for a cloud to pass.

Update, posted April 17, 2010:

I was surprised to read the Associated Press’ excellent coverage this morning of what is now being called “the worst travel disruption Europe—and the world—has ever seen.”

As of this morning, the eruption of the volcano on the Eyjafjallajokull glacier has forced 26 European countries to suspend flights. Millions of passengers are stranded—including at least 100,000 Britons who are unable to get home from mainland Europe. Ferries are overbooked, taxis are in short supply.

It’s difficult to grasp that an invisible cloud of tiny ash particles could wreak such havoc over such a huge region. It really brings home for me how small and helpless we truly are when nature gets cranky.

It’s also difficult to fully appreciate the hardships that some travelers are facing (not to mention the tremendous economic cost of this natural disaster). But a few of the stories beautifully illustrate how resourceful and creative people can become when things get tough.

John Cleese took a taxi from Oslo to Brussels. (It cost about $5,100, not including the tip.) Meanwhile, Norway’s prime minister—who was stranded in New York—governed his nation with an iPad. I can’t help but wonder whether Apple will seize on the latter: The new iPad. Small enough to fit in your briefcase. Powerful enough to run a country.

I’m sure that we’ll be hearing about this event for weeks (maybe even months) to come.

I’m also sure that it will be held up as one more example of the world’s impending demise, thanks in part to this image, which I spotted while trolling the headlines:

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