Internet 3.0?

By on April 7th, 2016 in Societal Impact

Steve Case, founder of AOL, has a new book out The Third Wave: An Entrepreneur’s Vision of the Future. As a leader in the “First Wave” (remember dial up modems? and getting a floppy disk from AOL every month in the mail? — that was SO last millennium) — Steve has some perspective on the evolution of the Net and some on future shock.

Case’s three waves are:

  1. Building the Internet – companies such as AOL creating infrastructure, peaking circa 2000 (remember the dot-com bubble?).
  2. Apps and Services on top of the Net. (the currently declining wave).
  3. Ubiquitous, integrated in our everyday lives — touching everything.

This list seems to ignore a few major “game-changers” as I see it, including the introduction of the Web and Browsers, Altavista/Google for search, and Amazon for retail. But, that does not diminish the reality of the social impact of whatever Internet wave we are on at this point. You might tend to align his assertion with the “Internet of Things,” where every light bulb (or other device) has an IP address and can be managed over the Net. But Steve points to much broader areas of impact: education, medical care, politics, employment, and as promised in his title, entrepreneurial success.

Another way to look at this is “what fields, if any, are not being transformed by networked computing devices?” Very few. Even for technologies that do not incorporate these devices (for example, genetically modified whatever), those technologies still depend on networked computer technology at many points in their invention and production.

Steve suggests we need a “new playbook” for this emerging economic reality.  I suspect he is only half right. This was the mantra of the Internet bubble, where generating income was subservient to new ideas, market growth, mind-share, etc. What is clear is that it will be increasingly difficult for existing corporations to recognize, much less invest in, the innovations that will disrupt or destroy their business. AOL and my past employer, Digital Equipment, are both examples of companies that had failed transitions, in part due to their momentum in “previous generations” of technology. (AOL continues as a visible subsidiary of Verizon, Digital has been subsumed into HP.) What is happening is that the rate of change is increasing. The challenges associated with this were documented in the 1970’s by Alan Toffler in his book Future Shock and it’s sequels, The Third Wave, Powershift, and most recently Revolutionary Wealth (2006). Toffler’s short form of Future Shock is: too much change in too short a period of time” — a reality that has traction 50 years later.

What examples of disruption do you see coming? (But beware, it’s the ones we don’t see that can get us.)