This online pioneer sees a future where everything is internet

In the 30 years since Steve Case co-founded AOL, the global tech landscape has seen immense growth and change. What new developments wait in the near future, and what does the rapidly expanding online world mean for human life? Case explores those issues in his new book, “The Third Wave.” Case joins Judy Woodruff to discuss his vision of the future.

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    Now: how to make your way through the future world of ever rapidly changing technology.

    That's the theme of the newest addition to the PBS Bookshelf.

    Judy Woodruff recorded this conversation recently with an entrepreneur who has some suggestions.


    Back in 1985, when Steve Case co-founded America Online, only 3 percent of Americans were actually online. Fast-forward some 30 years, and we can see the global change brought about by the Internet and an ever-growing array of devices and social media.

    So, what is next?

    Well, we get a glimpse from Steve Case himself. He is the author of a new book, "The Third Wave: An Entrepreneur's Vision of the Future."

    Steve Case, it is good to see you.

    STEVE CASE, Author, "The Third Wave": It's good to see you again.


    So you borrowed that term the third wave from the futurist Alvin Toffler.



    When I was in college in the 1980, I read Toffler "Third Wave." It completely mesmerized me inspired me. I spent the last almost four decades pursuing some of the ideas he talked about.

    So, when I was writing a book, I wanted to pay respect to him. I open the book with talking about my experience reading Toffler. And I hope others will similarly be inspired by my book, and because the future once again is going to change, and the path forward is going to be different than what we saw in the last two waves. And that's what I was trying to lay out in this book.


    So, in a thumbnail, first wave was the creation of the Internet, which you were involved in. Second wave was building on that, you describe, social media devices and so forth.

    What is the next wave?


    It's really integrating the Internet seamlessly throughout our lives.

    And there is a lot of things that haven't changed that much in the first wave or the second wave. How we learn, our kids learn is about the same. How we stay healthy is about the same. How we manage energy is about the same. Even how we think about food is about the same.

    And work itself is starting to change in the third wave because of the freelance economy, what some call the gig economy. So, I think it's important for everybody, not just businesspeople or technologists, to understand what is happening next. And that is what I try to lay out in this book with sort of a — a little bit of a road map forward and a little bit of a playbook in terms of how you can think about orchestrating your career and your life, and how you think about maybe your kids and even your grandkids. What world are they going to be inheriting?


    You write about your experiences even before AOL, bumpy in the beginning, very high, and then there was the ride down, and on to what you are doing now.

    What are the lessons of that experience for the future, do you think?


    Well, I think revolutions often happen in evolutionary ways.

    AOL was a 10-year-in-the-making overnight success. We really were at it for a long time before we finally broke through. After we merged with Time Warner, we kind of lost some of our way. And what I try to lay out in the book is a framework to think about what is happening next and make sure you are focused on the right priorities, you do have the right people.

    And entrepreneurship really is a team sport. So, if you don't have the right people kind of working on the projects in a collaborative way, you can't really get a lot of traction.


    What were some of the mistakes?


    Early on, I thought it would happen faster, frankly. I really did believe in the idea of the Internet when it was still pretty nascent.

    And I thought everybody would understand that. And it really took us more than a decade before we really got traction. Later on, as we got bigger and we went from dozens of people to hundreds of people to thousands of people, and then after the merger, tens of thousands of people, kind of lost sight of some of the importance of culture and…



    That was the Time Warner merger. And full disclosure, I was working for CNN then, so I was one of people affected by that.


    You were.

    And so — but, basically, as it got bigger, it was — the culture changed and some of the focus in terms of different people and their priorities kind of changed. Ultimately, my takeaway from that — and Thomas Edison said this more than a century ago.

    Vision without execution is hallucination. Having the idea is important, but being able to execute against the idea is more important. That ultimately comes down to people and trust and kind of getting people to work together in a collaborative way.


    Give us a better sense of what you mean by the Internet of everything, which is what you're saying it's going to be?

    Because, right now, people think of the Internet, and they think about the device they carry around in their hand or that YouTube video or something, participating in social media. But you're saying it is going to be embedded in the way we live, in our education, in health care, in everything.


    The third wave is really much more of an invisible Internet.

    And people do talk about the Internet of things, which are devices and sensors to track health and energy and things like that. And that will be part of it, but as this really cuts across all aspects of our lives, and really cuts across all industries in the economy, it really is going to be much bigger than the Internet of things, which is why talk about it as sort of the Internet of everything.


    How are we changing as people, do you think, because of the Internet?


    It's amazing to see what has happened in the last 30 years, in terms of how it's empowered people, not just in this country, but all around the world.

    But, in the third wave, I think it's going to take the next step. And as you really think about how do you learn differently, how do your kids learn differently, not everybody learns the same way. And we kind of teach them the same way. So more personalized, adaptive approaches to learning is going to be part of that.

    And health, there are different ways to stay healthy, different ways to manage chronic disease, different ways to think about life-threatening diseases. Right now, it is a little bit too one size fits all. I actually think the third wave is going to be the most striking in terms of really impact on people's lives, impact on society, as well as the impact on business.


    And you see maintaining the human component in that, that people are still going to have human relationships, that they are going to have time for each other?


    I think maybe more so in the third wave, because some of the things like education, it could be a more personalized experience around learning based on your interest and your best way to learn.

    In health, similarly, it can be a more personalized approach to understanding your own issues and what opportunities you have or what risks you have and dealing with that in a much more personalized kind of way.

    Entrepreneurs are not just Silicon Valley or New York City or Boston. It's starting to happen all across the country, particularly young impact entrepreneurs that want to build businesses, not just focused on profit, but focused on purpose. And they want to focus on creating jobs, so there is this passion about in the third wave taking it to the next level.

    I am very excited and very optimistic about that future.


    Last question. Is everybody going to be able to participate in this, or is there going to be sort of the haves who have got all the technology and those who are left behind and are going to be much slower to realize it?


    Well, even 30 years ago, when we got started and virtually everybody was disconnected, we were really concerned as it grew about the digital divide. How do you make sure everybody is connected?

    That is going to be a challenge in the third wave as well. But some of that is also democratizing access to entrepreneurship, so anybody with an idea has a shot, so the rise of the rest I think will help level that playing field. Inclusive entrepreneurship will help level that playing field, different kinds of entrepreneurs with different kind of ideas challenging the status quo, saying there is a better way, and using the third wave as a new paradigm to think about the future.


    Steve Case still thinking about the future.

    The book is "The Third Wave: An Entrepreneur's Vision of the Future."

    Thank you very much for coming in.


    Thank you.

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