Dan Lyons used to be the technology editor of Newsweek. And then one Friday morning wasn't. That particular Friday he was at home planning a family vacation to Europe. His wife had just quit work as a teacher. She had been suffering increasingly frequent and crippling migraines. They were readjusting to life on one salary, with young twins, but they had some savings, and Lyons job paid well. If they watched their pennies they could probably afford the trip.
The phone rang. His editor.
He excused himself to take the call upstairs, thinking she had rung to discuss the new technology blog he had proposed. But she hadn't. She had rung to sack him. It was a story familiar to thousands of journalists. Tens of thousands of them these last few years. His work was excellent. He was an asset to the company. But the company needed to cut costs. Lyons was blindsided. The news hit him particularly hard because although he had always been aware he worked in a struggling industry, he had felt himself less threatened by disruption when his editor, a friend of 20 years, had returned to Newsweek a few months earlier. They had been discussing ramping up his work, not cutting it back, and certainly not getting rid of it altogether.
He panicked. As you would. He begged. As you do. None of it made any difference. He was gone. Disrupted. A 50-year-old man kicked out of an 80-year-old company. It seemed impossible. He was the guy who had become a major-minor celebrity for creating the Fake Steve Jobs blog. He got a book deal out of it. A movie deal. He flew around the world and spoke at conferences. His opinion meant something. His name was known.
But none of it made any difference. He had to take a terrible job at a terrible website and started chasing clickbait. He left that job for the promise of bigger bucks and a brighter future at a start-up called Hubspot. It was at this point that things got worse. Much much worse. But only for Dan Lyons, not for us. Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble, his memoir of middle-aged irrelevance and corporate savagery, is a brutally funny indictment of the new economy. It's bitter at times, but not written from bitterness. These days Lyons presumably has both money and cred as a writer on HBO's Silicon Valley.
He is a good writer, with a journalist’s knack of cutting in deep to get to the bone. The earlier chapters, where he details his shock, disorientation and fear at having lost his job are scarifying, but when he enters his own personal hell at Hubspot, the tone is less dark than it is darkly amusing. The company, which sells really crappy marketing software, presents as a cult, full of young, bright eyed true believers. It is not a small enterprise. By the time Lyons signs on, Hubspot has raised hundreds of millions of dollars in venture capital, and is valued at billions of dollars for a potential IPO. There are thousands of employees, and to Lyons increasing dismay they cannot see just how badly they are being shafted. Indeed, they connive in their own economic destruction.
His retelling of the witless hysteria of Start-up-land is laugh out loud funny for page after page, but as the book progresses and he comes to understand what a gigantic scam he's been caught up in, not just at Hubspot but across the entirety of the new economy, Lyons turns his attention to the sort of hard-nosed analytic journalism he spent 30 years perfecting. The surprise of this book is not that new economy billionaires are ruthlessly exploiting their employees and their customers, or that wealth is being concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, but that the new emperors have convinced everybody that what's good for them is good for the world. Disrupted would make a great companion volume to Thomas Pickety’s Capital in the 21st Century. It is a highly personalised, very funny and deeply disturbing account of one man's experience of being crushed between the giant millstones of economic change. Millstones which are grinding all of us into a salty, pink paste which the super rich will eat as happily as pate de foie gras on a crispy little cracker.