Steve Case says the next five years will be about ‘the internet meeting the real world’

When MarketWatch first began providing news and financial data exclusively online in 1997, about half of American households with access to the Internet were connected through America Online. Steve Case led AOL, who moved the company from telephony services to instant messaging and general Internet access.

Case eventually merged AOL with Time Warner in a $164 billion deal that shocked Wall Street and created a high point in the internet bubble. The deal ultimately failed and Case left the company and founded Revolution, a venture capital firm focused specifically on spurring innovation in areas of the United States outside of California, New York and Massachusetts. He has also just published a book, The Rise of the Rest, about this effort.

With MarketWatch turning 25, we wanted to talk to Case about what he thinks we’ll be reporting on in the next five years. Here are his slightly modified comments:

What do you think you will read on MarketWatch in five years?

issue: I hope and I think in five years we’ll read about what’s going on across the country with entrepreneurship. We have this effort called Rise of The Rest, even a new book on Rise of the Rest. We’re trying to level the playing field so that people everywhere have a chance to build businesses and shoot the American dream. I think five years from now it’s going to go from something on the side, not many people know what’s going on, to a much broader phenomenon, where companies, big companies, and very successful companies start up in cities all over the country, not just in the usual places, like San Francisco, New York and Boston. So I hope the rest will go up. And I think five years from now, people will be surprised at the number of famous multi-billion dollar companies that are located in amazing places across the country.

You helped bring Americans online. What is in store for the Internet in the next five years?

issue: I think the next five years will be about the internet meeting the real world. It was the first stage of the internet where you can connect everyone. The second stage was applications and programs on the Internet. The third stage is really about things like healthcare, food and agriculture, financial services, and a lot of other sectors. So I think this is going to be a big trend. I think politics will become more important there because they tend to be organized sectors. But the potential to affect people’s lives in very basic ways, how we stay healthy, how we learn, what we eat, how we move, things like that, is going to be profound. And because these are some of the largest industries in the world, there will also be an opportunity to build giant and successful companies.

What are you afraid to read on MarketWatch in five years?

issue: I’m more optimistic, but if there’s anything to worry about, it’s that we haven’t leveled the playing field. Currently, the innovation economy is dominated by a few types of people in a few types of places. 75% of the investment capital goes to just three states. As you know, even though women represent 50% of the population, founders get less than 10% of the venture capital. Black Americans make up 13% of the population, and receive less than 1% of venture capital. We are trying to change that. We are trying to settle this area. This is the whole reason we launched the Rise of the Rest effort and the whole reason why the book was written Rise of the Rest. I hope and expect that we will make progress in the next five years. But if we don’t, we’re going to get a lot of people in a lot of places who still feel left out and neglected. And that will exacerbate some of the dynamics that we have in this country, the gap that we have in this country. We need to bridge this divide by creating more opportunities for more people in more places.

What opportunities do you see today in technology that might be more evident five years from now?

issue: In five years, the technology will be seen as nearly invisible. There will not even be a technology sector. Technology will really be included in everything. We’re seeing a lot of that already. Most companies are equipped with enabling technology. We’ll see more of that in the next five years. And I’ve always believed, even from the early days of AOL and the Internet, that it would really arrive when it wasn’t hyphenated. It’s not e-commerce, it’s commerce, it’s not email, it’s mail. It just becomes the fabric of life, like electricity etc. You should see more progress toward this goal in the next five years.

What is your biggest concern about technology in the next five years?

issue: My biggest fear with technology in the next five years is that it’s letting people out. How do you use technology to create opportunities for people and equal opportunities?

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