COMPUTERS, carefully examined and feverishly retrofitted, took us into this year with new confidence in a fail-safe life.
A vibrant economy all but erased our fear of mass layoffs.
Consumers spent with even more exuberance than Americans seem programmed to do. (It's our patriotic duty to resist saving and to sustain the marketplace.)
Life is good and totally predictable. The illusion of an environment capable of absorbing unlimited SUVs might well have gone undisturbed in 2000.
And then a jolt. Lulled into a belief that almost everything could work out for the best in the best of all possible worlds, we woke up to a series of reminders: Mother Nature reigns.
Technology guarantees many, but not all of our needs. Market forces remain despite the "soft-landing" manipulations of Alan Greenspan.
I am thinking of events which should have shattered the illusion of a friendly world:
Bridgestone/Firestone and the story of the high-speed unraveling of tire treads.
The death of a young Baltimore boy in the wilds of Africa.
The failures of Tiger Woods.
Let's start with the year of the Tiger.
He came closest to sustaining our belief that you can take some things to the bank. He won three of the major golf championships and made almost $10 million in prize money (dwarfed by his Nike and Buick endorsement deals), winning as consistently as any professional golfer since Byron Nelson (who faced far less expert competition).
He was not, of course, perfect. He lost to Sergio Garcia, the young Spaniard. And to Darren Clarke, the chunky Brit who won the match play championship. Vijay Singh won the Masters Championship.
Thanks be to the golfing gods. We enjoy competition. We marvel at Tiger Woods, but we don't like cakewalks.
The point? Tiger Woods is not invincible, not perfect, not an immutable force of nature whose presence always spells victory for him and desolation for all others. He's awfully close, of course, closer to what athletes and politicians call a mortal lock than just about any athlete you can recall.
He's even more remarkable because the game he plays demands so much precision; so much can go out of whack. Happens to the best -- though less frequently to Tiger, it seems.
One might have thought automobile tires would be in the same category: Totally reliable. Then came the unraveling tread mystery.
Millions of tires are sold by Firestone, a beleaguered manufacturer, and few of them fail.
We may have thought none did, lulled again into a false sense of safety. Our high-speed, auto-driven lives depend on that feeling of security.
Now we know what we should have known all along: Things happen, to modify the vernacular.
A flaw in the design of the Mars Polar Lander may have caused its engines to shut down as it descended toward the red planet late in 1999. Were we surprised that a NASA project failed? Space exploration, with some exceptions we may forget, has been spectacularly successful. We just hung solar energy panels on a space craft, flipped a switch and started collecting energy. Piece of cake.
We continue to live in a world filled with peril. We've done such a fantastic job of buffering ourselves, though, and we forget the challenges that still confront us. A young Baltimore boy died last year in Botswana where he and his mother had gone on safari. The park they visited offers superior game-viewing opportunities. But park minders could not guarantee that the watched would respect their watchers.
And who was watching in Florida? Who was making sure democracy worked as smoothly at the polls as we may have assumed? Didn't the lawmakers of Florida read about problems Maryland encountered in 1994 when various irregularities put this state's gubernatorial election into recount land?
Florida introduced us all to chads, the hanging bits of paper not fully punched when the voter votes there. In most elections, the failure of this technology would not have mattered at all. We assumed -- as we did with Tiger Woods, automobile tires and the federal reserve chairman -- that skill and technology would transport us safely, safely past anything like a constitutional crisis.
Now we know.
I'm not suggesting we all start living in fear of a worldwide depression. Or that we shy away from safaris or SUVs.
No one's going to panic if Tiger Woods' extraordinary success falls off a bit.
We expect that Bridgestone/Firestone will find its manufacturing problem, if any, and soon we'll be riding on their technology as if nothing happened. We're not helpless. We can proceed with more peace of mind as a result of the aforementioned technology.
The Internet allows us to do the consumer research some of us enjoy. We can find out about new golf balls and the distance they provide mere mortal players, for example. We can see test results on tires.
But again we must guard against putting too much faith in technology, including the Internet.
Look what it did for Al Gore (and he invented it).
C. Fraser Smith is a Sun editorial writer.