Twenty Six

Because today is my birthday, I’d like to repost a good article that really suits for me: original post with the same title on Medium by Nathan Bashaw.
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Birthdays are when you can’t ignore the big, scary questions that usually lurk in the background.

Today I turn 26, and I’m leaving my job.

I’ve worked at General Assembly for a little over two years, and I still love it. Creating Dash was the happiest experience of my professional life. Over 250 thousand people have used it to learn how to make websites, and it’s definitely my proudest accomplishment. Not to mention, the GA team is like family to me.

So, why am I leaving? I want to take a shot at answering a question that I’ve been circling around for a long time.

I remember sitting in the library at Michigan State University one day during my Sophomore year, writing a paper for a philosophy class. I don’t know why I was thinking about this, but for some reason I couldn’t get the idea out of my head:

What if books were designed for screens?

In other words, what would it look like if, instead of creating with print in mind and exporting to an ebook (which is what authors and publishers do today) you started from scratch, and created a fundamentally new book experience that is designed for the screen, and takes advantage of everything computers can do (interactive, internet-connected, etc).

This question has nagged me for years. I tried out a few ideas in college, but didn’t have the discipline to take them very far. After I graduated I moved to Palo Alto to join a startup named Olark, then left after a couple years and started working on an interactive, online book to teach people to code. That ended up getting acquired by General Assembly and morphing into Dash.

I’ve worked on a bunch of random fun stuff along the way, most of it completely insignificant, and some of it completely blowing up, but I’ve never been able to shake the idea of creating books made of software. I find it endlessly fascinating for a couple reasons:

First, I believe that books make us better people. I believe that every human being is essentially curious, loving, and good. But we need to feed the good parts of our nature with stories and ideas to keep them healthy. Books are one of the best ways to do that.

Second, I believe Steve Jobs when he said that a computer is a “bicycle for the mind.” It’s amazing to me that nearly 2 billion people now own a internet-connected computer and carry it around in their pocket at all times, and that within our lifetime, it’s entirely reasonable that almost every human being will have one. What’s even more amazing is that the smartphone wave of the computer revolution is only a couple years old. I was in college when it got started.

And still, no one has figured out how to take the very ancient human desire of sharing stories and ideas through the written word, and combined it elegantly with the capabilities of modern software running on phones. Publishers still use a process that’s designed for paper and export ebooks to screens as an inferior by-product, neglecting any possibility of weaving the capabilities of computers into the story. It’s basically just a wall of text.

But to be fair, it’s not that unusual, if you look at history. Every new technology that can be used for storytelling is first used as a crude copy of the thing it replaces. The first movies were basically video-recorded plays, and the first tv shows were just radio shows with video. Eventually, creativity always catches up with technology. It just takes time.

So, I know this sounds super vague, but my plan is to try and create original, compelling books that are designed for your phone. I’ve already got a few awesome projects lined up. I don’t know exactly what will come of it, but my goal is to be able to work on this for a very long time, and to help create lots of new stories and ideas that matter.

Does this sound interesting to you? Here’s how you can get involved:

  • Are you willing to give feedback? I would appreciate that a lot! If so, you can sign up hereand get early access when I have stuff to show.
  • Are you interested in collaborating on this in any way? This is a great time for me to work with new people, so let’s talk! nbashaw@gmail.com
  • Are you an iOS developer? I’m learning objective-c, coming from a design / web background, but I could definitely use some technical mentorship.
  • Do you know anyone who works in publishing? Whether they’re an editor, agent, or author, I would love to chat and get feedback on this idea.

Also, I’d love to just catch up and bounce ideas around. I’m a big believer in talking with people from all backgrounds to see how they react. You learn something different from everyone. So if you want to just talk, I would love that! Even if we’ve never met.

I’m extremely grateful for the support system I have, and I know I’m not in this alone. Thank you for all your help!

Wish me luck!

Update: I fleshed out this idea a little more in a new post.

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