NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The lesson from the first of Monday's sessions of the Sohn Conference? The world can be a scary place.
Two speakers, Leon Cooperman of Omega Advisors and Priceline founder Jay Walker, focused on financial hazards while Greenlight Capital's David Einhorn attacked fracking, the process used to withdraw oil from shale formations in the U.S., and announced his bet that Pioneer Natural Resources stock will take a fall.
Of the three, Walker's presentation was the most alarming, starting with his opening: "I want to talk about the risk of an economic collapse, the kind we haven't seen since the 1930s or perhaps ever."
He proceeded to warn of three forces driving the potential apocalypse: drones, bioweapons, and social media.
To illustrate, Walker displayed drones available on Amazon.com (AMZN) for just a few hundred dollars and explained how they could be used to distribute a bioweapon produced in a high-school lab. The effects of such an attack would be worsened exponentially by the panic that would follow from profuse commentary, much of it inaccurate, on social media.
"Governments are not in a good position to counter panic," Walker said. "A cell phone becomes a hand grenade of fear."
It's a warning that hits home, coming on the heels of the 2008 financial crisis that came to a head with the collapse of the Lehman Brothers investment bank, freezing credit and prompting a massive slide in the securities markets that crushed retirement savings accounts.
Even Leon Cooperman, chairman and CEO of Omega Advisors appeared shaken when he took the stage afterward.
"Perhaps we should all pack it in," quipped the former Goldman Sachs (GS) general partner, whose own take on the debt market was far from uplifting.
"Buying bonds is like stepping in front of a steamroller to pick up a dime," Cooperman warned.