Note: This was written for the Review Game's March Writing Challenge Contest. The prompt this month was the UN Declaration of Human Rights. Please let me know what you think! Also check out the other entries and vote for your favorite from March 8th-14th.

ThoughtNet

ThoughtNet Error Code 2738: Service Interruption

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ThoughtNet Special Bulletin 47852

Commence Transmission.

My friends, I speak to you now from outside the 'Net and apologize if this interference harms anyone. That was never my intention. Like you, I wanted only to be part of a world culture. I believed in the dream, that all people would have a voice, that no person's opinion would go unheard. But I'm addressing you now because that dream has become a nightmare.

I had a thought last week. I know you don't understand this now, but soon you will.

I found myself on the floor of my bedroom, staring up at the ceiling, and I thought, "What am I doing?" And the only response was silence. I was alone in my own head and the vast loneliness of my individuality terrified me.

And my next thought was "Why?" Why was I alone? Why had the 'Net disappeared? Why did it frighten me so?

The best I can figure it right now, without the knowledge of the 'Net at my disposal, the chip in my head malfunctioned that day. I still don't know what caused it – a misfired synapse, hardware failure, or a mere glitch in the software – but whatever it was, I owe it my mind.

When the shock of alertness wore off, I picked myself up off the floor and walked to the window. Even then, I sorely missed the comforting togetherness and completeness of the 'Net, and wanted desperately to get back in. I went to look for my husband, to get back to the 'Net…but I looked out the window and saw, really saw the world around me for the first time in years.

The garden, once vibrant with flowers, now stood forgotten, withered to detritus and muck, and I thought, "It's hideous!" and no one corrected me. No one commanded I take that opinion back; there were no hurt feelings in my head, there was only me and my disgust.

And oh, it was the most exhilarating moment of my life!

My mind, my body, so unused to the surge of emotion, gloried in the disgust I felt toward that patch of mud. "It's hideous!" I shouted, I raged, I cried. "Hideous!" I screamed, I roared, I wept. That rush of emotion made me forget all about the last three years of ThoughtNet and I reveled in the chance to be myself again.

But I was the only one.

I remember the transfer of knowledge in ThoughtNet, so many of you probably know what happened next. Someday I hope you understand the horror I felt, for that is what drove me to do what I am about to do.

Alerted by the sound of my voice, my husband came into the room and said, "Your receiver has malfunctioned. Follow me to an authorized repair center for maintenance and reintegration."

I pointed out the window, foolishly thinking he would see what I saw. "But the garden! It used to be so beautiful and it's ugly now!"

"Nothing is ugly unless all agree to that. Your unchecked opinion threatens the peace of society. Follow me to an authorized repair center for maintenance and reintegration."

I knew it was the 'Net speaking to me, not the man I had married five years before, before ThoughtNet captured our minds. "I'd rather stay offline," I told him, and he advanced on me.

"No one should remain outside of society," he said, voice and face devoid of emotion. Again he commanded I follow him and this time I was forced to flee.

I ran away, then drove away, heading nowhere, with no purpose. I wandered the world and I saw what ThoughtNet had made us.

I've seen many towns and cities in the last week. Every one looked the same. You don't realize it now, my friends, but you have all become marionettes. In all the cities, all around, all the people I saw were empty shells of human beings, absent of passion, interest, expression...

I can't let that continue. I'm on the outside watching you and I will not let the 'Net remain.

It was supposed to be a beautiful thing. I know this, and you do too. When ThoughtNet first came online, everyone talked of a world democracy, a world where everyone was free to voice their thoughts and we'd all be brought together by the most intimate understanding. It was a vision of harmony, of love and respect for all people, to see each other as equals.

And from the inside of the 'Net, I know it seems like there's harmony. All disagreements are quashed in a heartbeat, chided into submission by the will of the people. All think the same because there's no longer room for dissidents. And so it seems perfect to you, and seemed perfect to me when I was inside.

But on the outside, oh the outside!

As I drove through those cities, my friends, I saw you for what you really are. You wander the world without encountering a different perspective, driven by the voice of the 'Net. Your actions are calculated, efficient, spiritless. All of you, you're the worn out playthings of a groupthink culture, wandering the world on strings held by an invisible puppeteer. And it terrifies me that you don't even know it because that knowledge might upset someone and was forgotten long ago.

But I know it and I won't forget.

On the fourth day of my wandering, I realized what needed to be done. I turned my car toward the coast, toward the ThoughtNet headquarters. It has taken me two days to figure out what to do here without the knowledge base of the 'Net to guide me. But everything will soon be in order. Everything.

In a moment, I'm cutting the strings, my puppet friends. I'm shutting ThoughtNet down and freeing the masses. Soon you'll wake on the floor, staring at the ceiling like I once did, and you'll have to bear the discomfort of coming offline as I did, but that's where our similarity will happily end.

Some of you may appreciate me for destroying the nightmare, others will no doubt loathe me for killing the dream. But that is my gift to you. Love me or hate me: the choice is all yours.

End transmission.

ThoughtNet shutdown in progress…

We hope you enjoyed your ThoughtNet experience.