Let’s face it: something draws us to a disaster, as long as it doesn’t strike too close. And in all endeavors, but especially in technology, failures-even ghastly, gruesome, cataclysmic ones-can sometimes make better teachers than spectacular successes. The 10 examples offered below, drawn from a span of 373 years, show that though technologies change, many of the factors that make them go spectacularly wrong are surprisingly consistent: impatient clients who won’t hear “no”; shady or lazy designers who cut corners; excess confidence in glamorous new technologies; and, of course, good old-fashioned hubris.
In assembling this list of exemplary technological disasters, we’ve omitted the most familiar-those whose names have entered into the language, like Bhopal, Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, Titanic and Challenger-in favor of some with fresher tales to tell and lessons to impart. These events vary widely as to when, where, how and why they happened. But they all show how trusted technologies can suddenly go wrong, and how flaws that seem trivial or, in retrospect, painfully obvious can have devastating consequences.