A few weeks ago at my local writing group, we did a short exercise to challenge each other to write something new. This is something I definitely recommend, as it can give you some great new story ideas.
So here’s how it worked, we each had to think up the name of a gadget, then write it on a card. The cards were shuffled and given to everyone else at random, who had to write a short story about the gadget. That’s as simple as the brief was, and we came up with some interesting pieces of flash fiction.
Here’s a story written by Sue Wilson after being given “a peace button” as her starting point:
The Peace Button
It started with a case of unfair dismissal. A worker issued a complaint against her supervisor. She said all the woman ever did was complain, and never gave her any positive feed back. Faced with this demoralising atmosphere, she had become demotivated, which in turn lead to her dismissal for failing to reach the targets set by her supervisor.
The court found in her favour, saying she had not been given sufficient support. The pay out was substantive and all across the country HR departments went into melt down. Advice was issued but proved impossible to implement. People used sarcasm to get round the rule. The words used may fit the requirements, but every one knew the intent. The problem was not just in supervisions and appraisals. Any comment to any other worker left the company open to being sued.
Then the Peace Button hit the market. It sensed the intent of the speaker then using advanced noise cancelling technology negated any sound waves produced by any one with negative thoughts. Business went mad for it. All over the country companies snapped it up, incorporating the technology into ID cards, name plates and anything else that would ensure its wide distribution.Soon it’s use became compulsory.
The problem was solved. Now all any one would ever hear would be positive comments and feedback. The workplace became a happier environment as people could be sure any complement was genuine and not sarcasm. People smiled more and greeted each other without the fear that the comment would be taken the wrong way, and result in a complaint.
The Peace Button was well named; the world was at peace.
And then people started to die.
It was subtle at first, a rise in the accident figures, a blip in the cases of heart attacks and strokes, an almost unnoticed upwards shift in domestic violence reports. Initially these were thought to be random spikes, but the figures kept going up. News reports on the problem were of course, impossible, as to suggests a problem with the Peace Button was the very negative thoughts it was designed to negate.
A few isolated surveys and analysis of figures were carried out; the rise in accidents was found to be down to substandard parts or incorrect behaviour, but without the ‘negative’ opportunity to point out the faults, those making the mistakes carried on regardless, unaware of the chaos they were causing. The rise in physical violence was highlighted as, the in hind sight all too obvious, out come of removing the opertunity for cathartic arguement and disagreement. Heart attacks and strokes proved to be linked to the rising blood pressure. The effect of the stress of living in a world where unhappiness was effectively illegal.
But as important as these findings were, they were lost in under-read journals. the unintended impact undiscussed due to the Button’s effect.
A few broke away. Individuals at first but later small communities. They destroyed the personal Peace Buttons they were meant to wear and sort out places where they could meet and talk honestly. The new speak-easy generation was born. Eventually these groups found others with like minds and an underground network developed using secret signs to communicate in silence and so avoid the dumbing effect of the technology. Eventually, once they were confident of success they rose up, destroying all the buttons they could find in a riotous rampage that would later be called The Night Of Rage.
So the reign of the button of peace was over. But it was not the end. Under the yolk of the button mankind had lost the skill of tact and diplomacy, forgotten the subtleties of language and negotiation. The repressed hatred, anger and upset flowed out in millions of tear filled voices. Neighbour turned on neighbour, Relationships broke down. Society collapsed.
It would take a long time, and a lot of counselling, before it would rise again.
Sue is a member of Derby Scribes. She has been writing PBeM’s and RPG support material since 1987. Her current ongoing fiction is slowly appearing on her Watt Pad site. She doesn’t do happy endings.
Would you write this differently?
There’s obviously no explanation about how this “peace button” works, but there doesn’t really need to be of course, this is a cautionary tale about controlling people’s basic emotions. But would you have written this story differently? If so let us know in the comments below, and if you feel inspired, you can even write your own short story based around a “peace button”.
Oh, and definitely try doing this writing exercise with any writer-friends you have. If you don’t have any writers to turn to, there’s a bunch of really creative people in the Sci Fi Writers group on Facebook.
Another story written using the same writing excercise was “Looking for gravitation in all the wrong places” by Jenn Brown.