F. Scott Fitzgerald once said “You don’t write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say.”
Throughout my career I’ve had friends and colleagues ask: how come you haven’t written a book about your journey?
I first started hearing the question in the 1990s as AOL began to take off, in the mid-2000s after orchestrating the AOL-Time Warner merger, and in the last few years as an investor at Revolution, a philanthropist at the Case Foundation, and as someone increasingly involved in public policy efforts in Washington.
My answer has remained constant. While I of course learn from history, and greatly respect historians, I’ve never been that interested in looking backward, I’ve always been more inclined to look forward. So I didn’t want to write a book about where we’ve been, unless it could help make sense of where we’re going.
I had an “ah ha” moment of inspiration about a year ago, and decided it was time to put pen to paper. After hundreds of meetings in dozens of cities — many of them through our Rise of the Rest bus tour and Startup America efforts — I realized some big trends were gathering momentum. And I also realized some of what I was seeing, hearing and sensing was deja vu all over again, harkening back to the early days of the Internet.
When we started AOL in 1985 (30 years ago!), only 3% of Americans were online. So we (and many others, including Yahoo, Microsoft, Cisco, etc) set out to get America online. It took more than a decade to finally achieve that mission. We went from nobody knowing what the Internet was or thinking they needed it, to most people not being able to live without it. That was the First Wave of the Internet. Building the software and services and servers and networks that were the very foundation of the Internet, and evangelizing why people and businesses should get connected.
Then the Second Wave kicked in. The last fifteen years has been about building on top of the Internet. Core capabilities such as search and social became prevalent, as have smartphones, which ushered in a mobile revolution and the app economy. It has been an exciting time — our lives have been changed yet again, and some huge companies have been built in the process.
And now the Third Wave is about to break. Having built the Internet in the First Wave, and built on top of the Internet in the Second Wave, the focus will now shift to integrating the Internet seamlessly and pervasively through every aspect of our lives — and, in the process, disrupting some of the largest industries in the world. Think education, health, food, transportation and energy, among other “real world” sectors. They changed a little in the First and Second Waves, but they will change a lot in the Third Wave
The possibilities in the Third Wave are limitless, but the challenges will be multifaceted. Success in the Third Wave will require a different kind of playbook.
So I’ve written a book, laying out my views, which I’m calling The Third Wave. The title of my book isn’t original: I borrowed it from Alvin Toffler, whose prescient 1980 book inspired me as a college student to devote my career to helping to usher in the digital age.
The process of writing a book — of looking back, and looking forward — has been challenging, but also rewarding.
I look forward to sharing my views with you soon!