Business 2.0's social contract

YouHave those erudite editors of Business 2.0 magazine been reading Jean-Jacques Rousseau?

In its July 2006 issue, Business 2.0 asks who are the 50 people who matter in the information economy. So who is top, the guy who matters most? Instead of Jobs or Schmidt or Ozzie, the answer is "you":

"You -- or rather, the collaborative intelligence of tens of millions of people, the networked you -- continually create and filter new forms of content, anointing the useful, the relevant, and the amusing and rejecting the rest."

Yes, that's you -- the "networked you". It is everyone who is reading this, everyone who is on the Internet, everyone who has added their particular will to the collective digital intelligence. So what is the sum of all these individual digital wills? This aggregation is the general digital will. It is the collective desire of the online community.

But what happens if I don't like the end result of this collaborative intelligence? What happens if the top rated articles or videos on Reddit, YouTube, Digg aren't to my taste? What happens if the content that the "networked you" deems useful is not useful to me?

in his 1762 book Social Contract, Jean-Jacques Rousseau had a very similar idea to the sum of the "networked you." Rousseau called this the "General Will". It is his very flawed theory of democracy:

"Each one of us puts into the community his person and all his powers the supreme direction of the general will; and, as a body, we incorporate every member as an indivisible part of the whole."

According to Rousseau, this general will is always "rightful and always tends to the public good." Thus, in Rousseau's famous words, the general will "forces us to be free." Even if we don't agree with the general will, we have to accept that it represents the interest of the majority and is, in a peculiar way, in our own interest. A more pejorative term for Rousseau's theory is the tyranny of the majority.

So almost 250 years after Rousseau wrote his Social Contract, we are back with with his general will. This is Business 2.0's "networked you," the tyranny of an all-wise collective digital intelligence. It is what Jaron Lanier correctly identifies as Digital Maoism.

So the Internet, which was supposed to be about me, turns out to be about you. The Ministry of Truth's Doublespeak is back. Rather than Rousseau, the editors at Business 2.0 might have been better off reading Orwell.