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David Dewane is an architect and journalist working to create a better world through design and social change serving as Community Director of Archeworks, and formerly as the editor in chief for Impact Design Hub, both dedicated to expanding the role of design in society in order to create better social environments.

He knows that architecture is not just form and function, but also and more importantly, a tool to improve the fabric of society. Mr. Dewane also founded the Mouse Book Club, a project that thanks to a successful kickstarter campaign, aims to replace a commuter’s smartphone with classic novels, speeches, essays, and poetry through phone-sized, 48 pages long books to enrich minds by sharing meaningful literature.

"We got to a point, in our consumption of information, where we go back to the same comfortable sources. Again, and again, and again. What I’m interested in, is to make you uncomfortable, so your awareness goes up."
—David Dewane


David Dewane - Transcript

David Dewane (guest): A secondary theme that you could look at in some of my work, you know, if you were looking really closely, is—to steal a phrase from Hans-Ulrich Obrist— it’s “a protest against forgetting”. When you really grasp onto this stuff you realize it’s gold. These ideas are worth their weight in gold. And they’re sitting in front of us and we’re not accessing them. We got to a point, in our consumption of information, where we go back to the same comfortable sources. Again, and again, and again. What I’m interested in, is to make you uncomfortable, so your awareness goes up.

Simone Salis (host): I am Simone Salis and it this is Hoomans with today’s guest, David Dewane.

Simone Salis: David Dewane is an architect and journalist working to create a better world through design and social change serving as Community Director of Archeworks, and formerly as the editor in chief for Impact Design Hub, both dedicated to expanding the role of design in society in order to create better social environments. Mr. Dewane also founded the Mouse Book Club, a project that thanks to a successful kickstarter campaign, aims to replace a commuter’s smartphone with classic novels, speeches, essays, and poetry through phone-sized, 48 pages long books to enrich minds by sharing meaningful literature. David, it’s 2018 and a start-up about paper and literature with Dostoevsky Melville, Shakespeare as an alternative to smartphones, I feel like there is some bravery in that or at least I want to see it as part of the social advocacy side that is in your career throughout your whole career. And it’s pretty evident with me just with the idea of Mouse Book Club. Were you always this socially active growing up as a kid or in high school? Was always part of your choices in persona?

David Dewane: It’s interesting. Active, yes; choices, maybe not.

Simone Salis: (Laughs). So it was an unconscious..?

David Dewane: No, I come from a family that really takes service seriously. So my… a lot of people in my family are lawyers; my father’s a lawyer, grandpa’s a lawyer, uncle’s a lawyer, 2 brothers are lawyers, sister a lawyer. And I come up a small town in Wisconsin. When you’re a small-town lawyer, you have to do kind of everything. But also before there was… a lot of people kind of take for granted that today we have a public defender system but we didn’t always have that. And so before that existed like 50 years 70 years ago…

Simone Salis: It was pro bono, you needed to volunteer in order to…

David Dewane: Yeah, and my family was like the public defenders in my hometown, you know?

Simone Salis: So that’s where you think the imprinting on social justice comes from at least…?

David Dewane: Well, it was a family culture that goes back further my lifetime. But my father specifically had a deep sense of service and commitment. He opened a food pantry in my hometown like when we were little kids. We’d have to stand outside a church and like raise money for, you know, handicapped children and stuff like that. And so I think it was just… and plus he was kind of coming up with crazy projects all time. So like one time he was big into Habitat for Humanity, you know…

Simone Salis: Sure, yes

David Dewane: …the people go around and build houses. And so the hospital in my hometown needed a parking lot, they bought the all the houses on the adjacent block to it and they were going to destroy them all and build this parking lot. And so he arranged to have him all moved like to a vacant lot outside of town and created like… as a habitat project, and created like, you know, 7 houses in afternoon or 10 houses in afternoon or something. And it was unlike CNN when I was a kid, and which would seem like it was a big deal, you know? And the guy who found it habitat like came.

Simone Salis: And this was as a layman or was there also… do you do you have a religious background? I’m also curious about that because sometimes religious, or even personal spiritual paths… or how did you grow with family can kind of have some small role in that, right?

David Dewane: Yeah, yeah. Like… and I think that it’s hard to discount it. So like, I went to Catholic schools when I was a kid. And I realize, like now I’m a parent of little kids, and I decided to send them to Catholic school also; not because I’m… I’m not a particularly ardent Catholic but there are parts of it that I really respond to.

Simone Salis: Okay.

David Dewane: And one thing specifically is that your education was based on the idea of love, you know? And so I don’t want… I want that for my kids too. There’s a big part of me that responds really strongly or gravitates really strongly to this whole sort of Jesuit idea of graduating down and like the older I get, the fewer things I want. Like the older I get…

Simone Salis: You want to strip down the needs and reduce into what you actually need and nothing superfluous? That’s… I mean a little bit you try to cleanup?

David Dewane: My… the things that I want concentrate around; very specific things, and they tend not to be physical.

Simone Salis: It’s…

David Dewane: And to a degree, like what we were talking about before the mics went out was that, my first trip to Italy was to study the life of St. Francis when I was in high school with a Franciscan monk. And that’s that was profound man I do really gravitate towards Franciscan theology and the idea of madness that borderline… that’s borderline like ecstasy, you know? Like the, you know, not just thinking about individual people as like brother and sister but like ‘brother coffee cup’, you know, ‘sister wind’ or ‘moon’ or something like that.

Simone Salis: You’re a little bit of a pantheistic. (Laughs).

David Dewane: Just it’s like really intense. Like… and if you…. if you look for role models, people who have that level of love or… and which translated, in his biography, in many ways to just like a overwhelming spirit of joy. You know, I think joy is one of the greatest qualities you can have also. This this whole conversation is kind of making me seem a lot more Catholic than I probably am but…

Simone Salis: First, let’s put it this way. A person that barely thought about religion when we were talking about in his life but expressed some very similar concept of what you’re doing now.

David Dewane: Oh, yeah.

Simone Salis: Is a… yes, I had a chance to talk with a game developer; his name is Jason Rohrer. And he used to practice, for years, a thing called voluntary simplicity.

David Dewane: Oh yeah.

Simone Salis: And I don’t know if you ever heard about it, but voluntary simplicity is the choice of like stripping all the unnecessary from your life just out of respect of, you know, the other human beings and beings in on this planet. And at some point he ended up living with 3 kids and his wife with $14,500 per year, including rent, food, everything. He tried to… there was, to an extreme of what we’re talking about but… but I believe that those values are not exclusively like Franciscan or Catholic. That’s…

David Dewane: Oh yes; no, no, no, no. If there’s one thing for sure…

Simone Salis: Yeah.

David Dewane: … is that I don’t think people have a monopoly on the truth. (Laughs).

Simone Salis: Exactly, right? At the end of the day like, most prophets talk about the same things and values in every major religion. (Laughs).

David Dewane: Right. I benefited greatly from having a 2… like a family, 2 parents, but a family structure where I felt 100% secure in the sense that like no matter what I did, if I failed miserably, like I was going to have unlimited quantities of love and support like no matter what. And I think that that is such a powerful… giving somebody a foundation like that is really empowering. If there’s one determining factor, even above all this other stuff that we talked about, it was just the fact that I felt like no matter what, there was going to be a net and I was going to be fine. Anyway, I think that’s really important.

Simone Salis: You have 2 kids, right?

David Dewane: Yeah. Oh, and there’s a third one coming in two weeks or something.

Simone Salis: There’s a third coming? Oh my god! Oaky, nice!

David Dewane: Yeah.

Simone Salis: And how old are they?

David Dewane: 6 and 3.

Simone Salis: Okay. How is that going as a parent; the experience?

David Dewane: It’s joyful for the most part. They’re… you know, you learn a lot about humility, you learn a lot about how delicate life is and you… you really get a sense of how you have to balance your own selfishness for the needs of what are the most selfish people on earth, are these little kids, you know? Yeah, and that’s totally fine. I was reading this thing by Churchill right when I was having the first one. And he said, in this lake in Switzerland and all of a sudden, like him… they were on this rowboat, him and a companion, they jumped in the water just swimming around and that was like little gus picks up and such pushing the boat away. And he has the presence of mind to realize that like, “This is a dangerous situation. And even though the boat is just a few feet away, it’s moving faster than I can move to get it.”

Simone Salis: So in a second it wouldn’t become like a…

David Dewane: Deadly and dangerous.

Simone Salis: Yeah.

David Dewane: And so he starts swimming after the boat and the wind picks up a little bit more, and now he’s like swimming for his life. And even years later writing this as an old man, having lived through the bombing of Britain and all these like escapades in South Africa and India and so forth, he thinks that was the closest he ever was the death. And then he get… he catches the boat, gets back in the boat, goes, picks up his friend. His friend is totally clueless that any of this is going on. And so I read it and I was thinking, “Yeah, this is… this is what I want my parenting style to… to sort of produce; is a kid who is courageous enough to sort of get themself into a scrape but then smart enough to get them and their friends out of scrape.”

Simone Salis: And the presence of mind even during the events.

David Dewane: Yeah.

Simone Salis: Ok, and awareness and alertness. Architecture is something that you practice, it’s something very practical. You create anything, you can be an industrial designer, I guess, you can be an architect. Yeah, whatever you do, it has a little bit of God because you’re creating, you’re designing something from scratch using materials, using… using resources around you. But you are designing something that eventually people, at the very least, are going to use, and it’s going to influence society and it’s going to influence individuals with that. So did you find any attraction in that when you first got close to architecture?

David Dewane: I was a really interested in the arts, you know?

Simone Salis: Okay.

David Dewane: And I took all the art classes in this little high school I went to and I invented a couple… and then my sister happened to be going to a university that had a summer architecture program for high school kids. And so she just sent my fault… this flyer home to my house. It’s just like, oh you know she’s living in Washington DC; I was living in a small town in Wisconsin. And so my mom looked at this and she’s like, “Do you want to go live in Washington for the summer with your sister and go to architecture school?”

“Yes!” (Laughs).

Simone Salis: (Laughs). “Goodbye!”

David Dewane: Yeah, “Goodbye!” Yeah, so like it was the easiest decision in the world. And… but then I got there and it was like a… it’s kind of like Louis Armstrong used to say that, he didn’t have to learn how to play the trumpet, like it just felt natural in his hands, you know? And he got a trumpet like when he was a little kid.

Simone Salis: You’re being good at it.

David Dewane: Like so, for me, for whatever reason that language was something that was so comfortable to me right away. And, you know, so I performed well in this little summer camp. But then when I got to the… the real benefit that it gave me is that, when I got to architecture school for real, I already knew some lingo and I was like a semester ahead of everybody.

Simone Salis: Of course.

David Dewane: And it just seems like that one semester… I had a semester lead on everybody, the whole time I was in school, I was one step ahead.

Simone Salis: Right.

David Dewane: And so I had like a lot of confidence. And that’s how I got a lot of support.

Simone Salis: Do you think that worked towards your… like in your favor?

David Dewane: Oh yeah, totally!

Simone Salis: Being a… did you graduate early?

David Dewane: I did; yeah, I graduated at 3 and a half years, yeah, yeah. And… which was probably not a wise decision. But…

Simone Salis: Why?

David Dewane: Because I wasn’t really ready. And there’s a really amazing book called ‘So Good They Can’t Ignore You (buy now)’ by Cal Newport, where he talks about how you actually build a sustainable skill set around the things that you’re passionate for. And so what I ended up… the first situation I ended up getting myself into, towards the end of grad school, we started working on this project to do like a design-build project in Costa Rica. And it actually turned out to be like this horrendous failure. And… because I like my ambitions obstruct my ability to actually execute on the work, and I needed more time in school probably; I needed more time in firms. And I just try to sneak off sort of independently, and I didn’t have the skill set around me. So luckily, a lot of times there were a lot of people I think, those failures, those catastrophic failures can really alienate you from the things that you’re passionate about, which Cal talks about in this book. But in my case, I was able to bounce back from it. And now I just processed failure in a different way.

Simone Salis: Do you have a common theme across all your work, both as an architect and as an entrepreneur?

David Dewane: So if you really want to understand like what might work is all about…

Simone Salis: Right.

David Dewane: Basically what I do is, in these different arenas that I operate in, I try to affect them at the little value.

Simone Salis: Okay.

David Dewane: Even though I’m using behaviors or tactics that are that are similar to what else is going on, uh-huh what I’m trying to do is to dig in and infect the value system. Does that make sense?

Simone Salis: It does make sense. And I hope… I mean, from what we’ve been talking so far, I am confident that that’s going to bring a positive change. But if those are for some reason destructive values, then you end up being a good Hitler. (Laughs).

David Dewane: Yeah, and that’s why you have to…

Simone Salis: To discern and learn about yourself and trying to set your own like a set of values ethically an ideal setting; those kind of things.

David Dewane: Exactly.

Simone Salis: Because you can propagate both things; you can propagate constructiveness and you can propagate destruction using this approach, I think.

David Dewane: Yeah, totally there’s a… there’s a quote by William Butler Yeats, I think, which is that, “The… the unreasonable man…” see, the reason… it’s the… it’s from a poem, I think, called ‘The Unreasonable Man’.

Simone Salis: Okay.

David Dewane: The… the notion here is that, “The reasonable man sees the world and will conform themselves to… or himself to the world. The unreasonable man sees the world and will conform the world to himself. And therefore, all progress relies on the unreasonable man.”

Simone Salis: Let me just explain in a second what the Mouse Book Club is briefly. You… you publish small books, literally the size of a smartphone.

David Dewane: Phone sized books.

Simone Salis: Phone sized books which are 48 pages long. Why 48 pages? Does that have to do with the printing process or is it a choice?

David Dewane: Yeah, 2 things; 1 has to do with the printing process where it’s cheaper to print books in…

Simone Salis: 16.

David Dewane: Cycles 16, yeah. So the next option up was 64 which we’re experimenting with right now because people are complaining about the print size. And I’m also learning that the human eye fatigues over time. So… we we got to be a little bit sensitive to that. But the other is the thickness. So when you start designing very, very small objects, you realize that every millimeter accounts and you feel them. Like there’s almost a an inverse curve, you can imagine your mind, where the smaller an object is, every small change it has, has an exponentially greater impact on your experience of the object, okay? Kind of like if a crane extends, the load at the end of the crane becomes exponentially more forceful on the… on the arm of the crane.

Simone Salis: Right, you’re going to trough the center.

David Dewane: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So like when you have a really big object, you can make all kinds of changes to it nobody really gives a sh***.

Simone Salis: And how has that influenced the design of these books?

David Dewane: So 48 pages is the Z, the thickness.

Simone Salis: Okay.

David Dewane: You can feel the difference between a 64 page book mm 48 page book. You can feel it in your pocket, you can sense it; and you can feel it in your hand. And so when you’re dealing with a very, very delicate object, every single aspect of it has to be right. And 48 pages is probably the right ideal page count. But the text size is… is something that we have to get right.

Simone Salis: Right, yeah.

David Dewane: And we… and what’s funny is that we sized the text in the book off a smartphone text. But your… your perception of the size of the text is different than if you’re not holding it side by side of the backlit smartphone. So we have to… we have to bump it up to make it seem the same size like the text in like a New York Times article on a smartphone, or the text like right there.

Simone Salis: Right, I’m just comparing them right now. And first thing I’m noticing that… well, I’m also noticing, they seem… they’re tiny, wonderfully crafted, at least to me, to my non expert eyes. Because…

David Dewane: Oh, you’re Italian.

Simone Salis: But I mean… (Laughs). Yeah, that’s in my DNA. No, I’m… well, it looks like you… you have like this cover which is 3 colors at the most, I think, some are 2.

David Dewane: Yeah and (unclear) [17:15].

Simone Salis: Oh, there you go!

David Dewane: Which means they… for… people were saying they mix the paint before… or they mixed it… they don’t build the color up out of CMYK colors, they pre mix the ink color so that it’s 100% consistent.

Simone Salis: Perfect!

David Dewane: And edges are super sharp.

Simone Salis: Did you work mainly on them? Like, were you… are you the main designer for the graphic design?

David Dewane: No, no. And in fact that’s the… I think, the smartest thing I did on a project was, initially, there’s a graphic designer Courtney Garvin who I’ve worked with on a number of different efforts. And she was like the first or second person I called. And I just said, “I would love you to be a co-founder of this company and I want you just to design the books.” And so I offer her feedback but it’s kind of like working with Brian the editor; I know enough about the content that I can say intelligent things to him and have provided critical feedback.

Simone Salis: Got it.

David Dewane: But… and with Courtney, I know enough about design generally, that I can…

Simone Salis: Uh-huh, to be able to interact with her and like work towards an object, a product that you both want or are satisfied with.

David Dewane: Yeah. So the book is meant to be sort of read on the bus, you know, or on the subway or something.

Simone Salis: Yeah.

David Dewane: And so it’s sort of meant to be read by somebody about 4 feet away from you when you’re reading it, you know?

Simone Salis: (Laughs). Okay. You have like that much, just that much space… much space that you can use to…

David Dewane: Yeah, it’s alright, you know? It’s a…

Simone Salis: … in a crowded environment.

David Dewane: So people can tell the cover, the author, people usually… or people can tell the title, the author; people usually recognize one of those 2 things. And then the book starts immediately on the first page. Like the…

Simone Salis: As soon as you open it, there’s no introduction.

David Dewane: No, it starts on the cover.

Simone Salis: It starts really from the cover; you’re right.

David Dewane: Yeah.

Simone Salis: And just continues there.

David Dewane: And then the most salient sentence of the whole book that we think is on the back, you know? So…

Simone Salis: So there’s a quote as a self-review from the writer. (Laughs).

David Dewane: Yeah the…

Simone Salis: That’s just like on the back.

David Dewane: Well, yeah, and the goal is that, when it’s sitting there laying on your desk and it’s facedown, you can just see that one… that one sentence and then everything that’s special about that book will sort of like flash back in your mind right away. And…

Simone Salis: You’re attracted to it again and maybe you want to take a look or you want to keep reading it. That’s great! Yeah, so the… the main project, the reason why I was fascinated it’s because, well, you obviously cannot replace smartphones.

David Dewane: No, no.

Simone Salis: But you want to… in which way do you want to try to complement the experience of commuters? Like what is the goal? The goal is to…

David Dewane: Yeah.

Simone Salis: … to make people read those classics and learn while they’re on a commune and just think that instead of a smartphone. And this might be a right moment after all the… all the drama that is going on with people starting to understand which kind of data they’re giving off to companies collecting. (Laughs).

David Dewane: Maybe; yeah, maybe. Like, I don’t… look, the advantages of smartphone are so clear…

Simone Salis: Of course.

David Dewane: … and so ingrained in our minds that now we can’t live without them. And the… just the fundamental realization at the heart of this enterprise is that, for whatever reason, people don’t read Kafka on their phone. I don’t know why, but people will obsessively read their phones and they will not read beautiful sentences; I don’t know why.

Simone Salis: We read an incredible amount of information every day right now.

David Dewane: Yeah, yeah.

Simone Salis: But the problem is that, it’s either advertising or status updates on Facebook. (Laughs).

David Dewane: Yeah, because… and I think it’s because, I mean, the people who design phones… like the old adage about the greatest minds of our generation are trying to figure out how to get people to click on internet, you know?

Simone Salis: Right.

David Dewane: And so like, I think that one of the reasons why people don’t read Kafka is because it takes a lot of concentration.

Simone Salis: You’re constantly prompted from notifications and callers and design languages to go do something else and not just focus on that. Also, you have the world available there. So reading it so quietly…

David Dewane: Yeah.

Simone Salis: It’s quite like static activity on the phone to do for something that is so interactive as a medium, right?

David Dewane: Yeah. We were joking around a lot at the very beginning when we… when we were kind of post rationalizing the benefits of these books, is that… and we came up with this sort of bizarre sales pitch was the… which was the opposite of what Steve Jobs’ sales pitch was for the iPod, you know? Like that the advantage of it is that, like instead of 40,000 books in your pocket, it’s just one.

Simone Salis: (Laughs). You have it carefully curated in chosen. (Laughs).

David Dewane: Yeah, it’s just one. Like instead of… instead of like not even is it 40,000 songs in your pocket but you can also call somebody on it. Like, it’s advantage is that you can call somebody on it.

Simone Salis: Right.

David Dewane: It doesn’t… like, you can’t check your email on it, you know?

Simone Salis: That’s starting to become fascinating because you… I don’t know if you notice but there are a few phones like there are some… some dumb phones… (Laughs).

David Dewane: Right.

Simone Salis: … that has those functions. Because it’s quite hard, I don’t know for you, but for me it is, to handle infinity in my pocket and… and have infinite choices and access to everything. And so I can see the fascination with that concept. Like you’re joking but I believe that some people crave it. It feels like there is some sort of shame to not being able to not use the smartphone all the time, which are great tools. When you use Google Maps, that’s a lifesaver; or whatever Maps application you use. When you use Lift, that’s great.

David Dewane: Yeah.

Simone Salis: When you use Uber, that’s great. When you use the weather, that’s great. But then it becomes this infinite streams of Twitter and… and Facebook. And that’s… that’s a… that’s addictive. (Laughs).

David Dewane: That’s really interesting. There’s a… they had a couple of these architecture projects that were designed intentionally to be uncomfortable in natural environments so that your senses would go up. And apparently, you can… this is measurable. When you’re cold, your sense of hearing or your sense of sight sharpens; your hearing goes up or something like that. And so…

Simone Salis: Survival.

David Dewane: Yeah. I think that the thing about like Google Maps is that, it’s… we’re so comfortable in it that we’ve stopped being able to create really complex mental maps of our cities, you know?

Simone Salis: Yeah.

David Dewane: The thing about the weather is that, you know, you probably pay less attention to the ambient conditions of the atmosphere. (Laughs).

Simone Salis: Right. You don’t need to, there is a machine doing it for you.

David Dewane: So it kind of lulls us… yeah, and the phone like, in terms of information, our thoughtfulness about information, having so much access to information at our fingertips and anytime, probably creates a sense of complacency.

Simone Salis: If you… there was a study where they compared the… the hippocampus of a cabdriver in a city… a European city; so not a grid system.

David Dewane: Sure, so like a limo driver?

Simone Salis: And… yeah, so like… yeah. And the hippocampus of a cab driver before Google Maps and GPS navigation systems, so older people now, it’s incredibly more developed.

David Dewane: Yeah, because…

Simone Salis: Firing up all the time compared to anybody that uses a GPS since they started working or an Uber driver. And I found that fascinating too. It’s just, that’s… that’s the scientific demonstration and visual representation through an MRI of what you’re saying right now.

David Dewane: Right, yeah, exactly. It’s… so like, if you then to think about why do we choose to print the books that we print.

Simone Salis: Yes I’m curious. What’s the goal?

David Dewane: Because their… their fundamental… well, there are a couple things. One is that, they’re public domain so we don’t have to pay anybody to do them.

Simone Salis: Right, it’s (unclear), right?

David Dewane: Yeah. We can take and print anything we want to and. So in one way we’re restricted to everything before the year 1923 just based on legality…

Simone Salis: Yes.

David Dewane: … for now until we get more cloud then we can gain access the 20th century which would be really great; and it’s like certainly goal. But more or less like… aside from that, there are a lot of fundamental texts that were written in that kind of pre-modern period that have… that give us

the basis for which to… to think about the world. You know, to build a critical worldview and to… to really interrogate… like a… the way the Brian talks about it, which I think is really elegant,

is to… these are… these authors are dealing with the problems that have like vexed humanity since our the beginning.

Simone Salis: The beginning of… yes.

David Dewane: You know, and like… so who’s ever writing in today’s article on Politico or FiveThirtyEight or espn.com or who’s ever posted something on Facebook, it’s unlikely that their plumbing the depths of humanity’s struggle to understand life.

Simone Salis: They’re definitely only not close to like Thoreau with like on the duty of civil disobedience which… (Laughs).

David Dewane: I haven’t seen people come that close to Thoreau in… at least in written phone… like on the phone.

Simone Salis: Phone, yeah.

David Dewane: You know? I mean, I think that there are… probably there are some podcasts that are starting to really think about that and there are the movies and stuff that are like a really good right now. And like, one of the fun questions I like to ask people when we interview experts about the different authors is, “What would they be doing if they were alive right now?” What would Jonathan Swift be doing if he was alive today? He’d be writing for Steve Colbert, you know?

Simone Salis: (Laughs). I think you’re right.

David Dewane: What would Machiavelli be doing if he was alive today? He’d probably in the Trump administration, you know?

Simone Salis: Yeah, and would be playing like dice. (Laughs).

David Dewane: Yeah!

Simone Salis: And then… and yeah, and doing bets.

David Dewane: Yeah, right. Like what would Shakespeare be doing? He’d probably be making movies, you know? What would (unclear) [27:02] do? Write books. (Laughs).

Simone Salis: (Laughs). Still do it.

David Dewane: He’s still be writing books. So like there’s… it’s really incredible just to think about…

Simone Salis: Right now, Shakespeare would be a writer. Since he was not, why lose the message? Why not trying to find a format that actually can appeal to a commuter or someone to use their time to learn and share? From what I’m understanding.

David Dewane: Yeah. And when you realize, when you really grasp onto the stuff, you realize it’s gold. These ideas are worth their weight in gold, and they’re sitting right in front of us and we’re not accessing them.

[Musical Interlude]

Simone Salis: What does your work mean to you? What’s one of your main drives?

David Dewane: A secondary theme that you could look at in some of my work, you know, if you… if you were looking really closely, is… to steal a phrase from Hans Ulrich Obrist, “It’s a protest against forgetting.” And it’s about rediscovering some of the really crucial ideas from the not so distant past and trying to place them into the contemporary dialogue in a way they presents how powerful they are and makes… makes a contemporary audience….

Simone Salis: I wish… I wish schools were able to do that. (Laughs)

David Dewane: (Laughs). Yeah, right?

Simone Salis: (Laughs). You’re talking about something that sounds much like (unclear) [28:48]. I’m always impressed that philosophy is not taught in high school here, that it’s not like a mandatory.

David Dewane: Yeah, it’s really funny.

Simone Salis: Like you can but it’s not something that is considered like fundamental. I believe that’s the basis the… base of critical thinking and learning how to be a decent citizen, right, eventually.

David Dewane: Totally, totally right. I have a really funny anecdote about… a mouse based anecdote. So one of the books we were thinking about putting out for the next set is a book by the French philosopher Henri Bergson from, you know…

Simone Salis: (unclear) [29:18]…

David Dewane: Creative Evolution.

Simone Salis: Yeah. He also wrote on the on the Left.

David Dewane: Yeah, okay.

Simone Salis: I don’t know the French title, it’s… it’s the French title.

David Dewane: And so anyway, the… it’s really hard for me reading this, like we made a test book of it, it’s really hard. And this is so hard to the point that I was wondering if we should pull it, you know, mmm because I was afraid it was going to drive people away from the company. But eventually we decided, “No, you know, like adults can read philosophy.”

Simone Salis: Yeah, yeah!

David Dewane: “It’s okay.” And like we’re going to… like when we sent it out, we’ll send it out with a red pen and like a little instruction card about how you going to read a philosophical text and not… you know? Like you’re not going to read as fast as a… as fiction, but like just go over it several times until you really get it. Anyway, I’m sitting in a Senegalese restaurant in Brownsville.

Simone Salis: Okay.

David Dewane: And I have it sitting on the table. And this African waiter comes by he’s like, “Hey, where’d you get that Henri Bergson book?” And I’m like, “I’m publishing it, maybe.” (Laughs).

Simone Salis: (Laughs).

David Dewane: And he’s like, “Well, I want to buy one. Can I buy it?”

Simone Salis: Oh!

David Dewane: And I’m like… I’m like, “Why do you want… like what the… what do you mean?” And he’s like, “Ah man, we studied Bergson in high school.”

Simone Salis: Yeah!

David Dewane: You know, because the French… Senegal is French colony.

Simone Salis: Yeah, of course.

David Dewane: And so I just gave him the book, you know, and I had to. Like at that moment, there’s no way you can’t. But it was interesting how comfortable he felt with it even though English isn’t even his first language.

Simone Salis: Yeah!

David Dewane: What I’m interested in is making you uncomfortable so that your awareness goes up. That’s really a great spot for the human mind to achieve growth, is when you are unsure about whether or not you believe something.

Simone Salis: So the Mouse Book Club…

David Dewane: Unfolds it in your mind; it feels wonderful.

Simone Salis: It’s not just books actually, the Mouse Book Clubs, but on Drip which is the new platform for…

David Dewane: Kickstarter.

Simone Salis: … Kickstarter, you can subscribe and people will receive a small phone size 48 pages book.

David Dewane: Yeah.

Simone Salis: Then they will have access to extra content, like for example you’re talking about a podcast.

David Dewane: Podcast and stuff, yeah. We’ll just give those away. I mean, like for a while we were thinking that the podcast would be like a nice bonus for the book. Now, I think we try to build a podcast in way where you just enjoy it if you’re a thoughtful person outside of reading the book, and then you might buy the book after. Or like you can kind of go back and forth between them. The way that we try to think about ourselves as publisher is that we want your relationship with us to begin when you buy the book, not end basically.

Simone Salis: When you buy the book. You want to…

David Dewane: Like that… it’s not… it’s not like a… you know, when you buy a book by let’s say, this Random House or something like that, you know, it’s not like your whole relationship with Random House it’s like opened.

Simone Salis: Right.

David Dewane: You know, Random House doesn’t really care whether or not…

Simone Salis: It’s not a conversation.

David Dewane: It’s not a conversation.

Simone Salis: It’s more unilateral. Okay.

David Dewane: Right, yeah. I mean…

Simone Salis: So you want…

David Dewane: They’re going to keep producing books at massive scale and they hope that as many people buy these books as possible.

Simone Salis: So your goal is to open a conversation with whoever… whomever is reading…

David Dewane: And that’s not… that’s not necessarily just figurative. Like when people buy books off our website, I try to start email conversations with them. So one of my heroes in life is a guy named Jonas Salk. He’s the guy who invented the polio vaccine in the mid 50’s, he’s a scientist, he… about… Jonas Salk wrote a fascinating book about population and dynamics and values attitudes and behaviors of society from like a evolutionary biology point of view. And I worked on the republication of that book. Everything that we’re doing around the marketing for that right now is just to get people to buy it. Once people buy it, that’s it; like that’s when published…

Simone Salis: And then the story.

David Dewane: That’s going to be in a story. And like all of the energy that they put into it is just about like selling the book; just getting somebody to buy the book or book stores to buy books.

Simone Salis: Of course, yeah.

David Dewane: And what we’re doing with Mouse is that like, somebody buys the book and we just like, “So glad you bought this book.” Now like, “Okay, that’s just step one that’s 20% of our relationship with you; 80% of it is like trying to figure out how you can get as much as you possibly can out of this book, okay? Let’s work together on that,” you know?

Simone Salis: Okay. Yeah.

David Dewane: “Like send us a… like a audio clip of you reading the book like and telling us what you like about it. Or, you know, we’re publishing this book club, we’re going down interviewing people that like about aspects of this book that’s really interesting and building these like free things to…”

Simone Salis: Mm-hmm, that can compliment.

David Dewane: “… allow you to get more out of it. Because like look reading it is not…” like I hate to put it like this but like, “You buying the book and reading the book is not good enough. You have to understand it; you have to apply it.”

Simone Salis: “You’re becoming a part of a process.”

David Dewane: Yeah, ‘”You’re in a community,” you know, like and like we care that you… that you grow through it.”

Simone Salis: Yeah. Well, I was about to say, it looks later you are not… really whenever you talk about this project, your main joy comes out not of publishing for the sake of publishing or just rediscovering a classic piece of literature, but it’s mostly because you’re setting up the environment for a reader to grow and starting that process of personal growth.

David Dewane: Right.

Simone Salis: And so Mouse Book Club main goal is not to sell you. It’s not because of the size, it’s not because it’s fancy, like you save the language and architecture, although it looks really nice, they come out as that. But the goal is to sell you a path of personal growth through some classic pieces of literature that also ignites some critical thinking, is part of that.

David Dewane: Yeah. You unlock the idea that’s inside of it, you understand it…

Simone Salis: Okay.

David Dewane: And then it changes you.

Simone Salis: And that’s…

David Dewane: And that happened… that happened to me.

Simone Salis: Okay.

David Dewane: So I’ll tell you like and it wasn’t easy. So the very first book that we ‘published’ published yeah was ‘The Dead’ by James Joyce.

Simone Salis: Okay.

David Dewane: And by publishing, we gave it away. Like, we’ve printed 500 copies of it and if you subscribe to the Kickstarter campaign…

Simone Salis: You would just get it.

David Dewane: … we emailed it to you immediately for free.

Simone Salis: Okay.

David Dewane: And it was kind of like a marketing ploy in some way.

Simone Salis: I’m sure it was, but I also…

David Dewane: Because we’re getting… we are getting you excited about it. But okay… so I read The Debt, you know, like, “Well, we saved Brian, what’s the first book we should publish?” Brian says… and we debated a couple different texts and he says, “The Dead by James Joyce is a good one.”

“Okay, that sounds great because James Joyce is somebody people are typically intimidated by.”

Simone Salis: Yeah.

David Dewane: “So let’s… okay let’s take down… let’s take on James Joyce.” So I read it and I knew going into it, that this book had one of the best endings of all time of any short story, and so I was waiting for, the ending. And it’s a really boring book actually right until the ending.

Simone Salis: Yeah.

David Dewane: And… but then the ending like blows you away. But it… there’s a scene in there, right in the middle or 3 quarters the way through, where the protagonists like encounters his wife and he has… you experience the whole scene from his point of view. And he is really deep to himself about how important this is, you know, and like his sort of aesthetic view of situation. You find out at the end that she was going through this incredible transformation inside, what… at that very same moment, he was so wrapped up in himself…

Simone Salis: That he wouldn’t notice.

David Dewane: … that he just totally missed it, you know? And so anyway, like we were getting ready for… I was getting ready to like… we do a little book club with a founding team, we all sit together and talk about these texts. And I was getting ready for that book club and in the morning I had my wife read that text at the breakfast table. And I almost just started crying because like I am that guy.

Simone Salis: Yeah, you recognized.

David Dewane: My life is so f****** special that like when… when these really intense… like I can encounter really intense scene but I will completely see it through the lens of my own sort of selfish experience at the expense of catching what’s really amazing about it, which is like maybe some of the transformations of other people that are involved in that same scenario are going through. And so…

Simone Salis: It, for you, was kind of a cathartic moment for…

David Dewane: Yeah, the definition of catharsis, you know? And like what’s crazy about that is that, I didn’t realize it the first time through; it had to be explained to me later by plan that like, “This is really what’s going on here, Dave.” And it was… it was one of the like the most humiliating moments of my life in some ways to realize like…

Simone Salis: That’s great!

David Dewane: … that’s me. Yeah! And like… but now I changed the way I approach people, you know, and like situations, hopefully. So that’s what we want people to achieve and I will work like crazy to get that for other people.

Simone Salis: Is there before… before we say goodbye, you mentioned earlier that it’s useful to have a set of skills in order to achieve your goals and to create even a business plan, I’m going to guess, to propagate your beliefs, your ethics and that’s what, for you, this is about. Like not just this one but all the social… social advocacy in your other work. What would be an advice that you give to a young entrepreneur or to a young artist to get on track to share with the world their beliefs and then their point… point of view?

David Dewane: It… very simple. Go to amazon.com and buy the book ‘So Good They Can’t Ignore You (buy now)’ by Cal Newport, or just email me and I’ll send you… I took like extremely detailed 20 pages of notes on this book.

Simone Salis: Okay.

David Dewane: But like it literally gives you like even the language, like a process. This guy’s… this guy… I mean… and if you want me to kind of crib note it for you, like if you… in case you’re too lazy to read it, it is to…

Simone Salis: In 2 sentences. (Laughs).

David Dewane: Its to engage in… to constantly be working at the extensive your abilities in… in an environment where you can get ruthless feedback and so that you’re… you’re experiencing growth at all times, you know? And then you… you aim your efforts at something called career capital where you… you try to bite on… you take bite-sized pieces of whatever it is your goals and then you leverage whatever win… small win you can get into something a little bigger… a little bit bigger. And eventually you can… if you do that enough times, you get in control of what you do and how you do it, and that’s…

Simone Salis: During the process, you gain control.

David Dewane: Yeah.

Simone Salis: You’re like (unclear) [40:35].

David Dewane: And you keep building. And like it takes a long time for that momentum to build, but once it builds, it’s easy to do 2 things; it’s easy to keep it moving and it’s easy to switch tracks.

There’s also another quote by hourglass that’s floating around the internet that’s really easy to find where he talks about, “Anybody who’s involved in a creative process, what you got to realize is that, there’s this whole volume of s***** work that you have to do before you get to do really good work, and that it just takes time and you got to realize it’s normal. You have to be patient. You have…” Like the irony is that your taste, you have… a lot of people have really good taste, and that their taste is good enough to recognize great work but their ability is not good enough to produce great work so you hate your work, you know?

Simone Salis: Yeah, yeah.

David Dewane: And so you have to… but like the only way to get through the volume is to put yourself on a deadline and just…

Simone Salis: Just do it.

David Dewane: … keep producing until you can…

Simone Salis: Sometimes it’s about volume and being constant more than quality and like in a one shot.

David Dewane: If there’s one book that I would love to write, it would be a book called ‘The Volume’ and it would just look at the…

Simone Salis: Producing.

David Dewane: It would… it would look at the productive output of great artists up until the point where they produce something great, you know…

Simone Salis: That would be really interesting.

David Dewane: … as a means of encouraging people to fight through the volume.

Simone Salis: So for now, you can subscribe to the Mouse Book Club.

David Dewane: Yeah, it’s a good idea.

Simone Salis: And eventually when you’ll be a publisher, you’ll be able to buy ‘The Volume’ by David Dewane. (Laughs).

David Dewane: (Laughs). No, you can’t buy that, unfortunately; you have to earn that.

Simone Salis: Oh! (Laughs). David will email to you and go and check if you deserve it. Alright, David Dewane today on Hoomans. Thank you so much for being part of the show today, David.

David Dewane: Thanks, yeah.

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