Welcome to Work in Progress

A newsletter about the world’s most important mysteries

An illustrated, abstract logo on a colorful background
Han Castanedo

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I’ve been writing for The Atlantic for more than 13 years about economics, technology, politics, and culture. My newsletter, Work in Progress, is about all those things, with a special focus on the future of work—how the changing nature of our jobs is shaping life, politics, and society—and the future of progress: How we solve the most important problems in America and on the rest of the planet.

I can’t promise I’m going to get everything right. But I promise that I’ll try to put evidence over ideology in every piece. And I promise to approach every subject with a 9 a.m. mindset. Let me tell you what I mean.

When I wrote my first article for The Atlantic, in 2009, I truly had no idea what I was doing. I had been an intern in our communications department for several months when an editor of the website asked me if I wanted to try writing about economics. To this day, I don’t know why he asked me. I wanted to tell him: Absolutely not. I was generally averse to anything that looked like math. I thought economics was turgid, complicated, awful stuff, and I let them know. I went on to overshare that when I read The Washington Post, the only section I regularly tossed aside was Business. To write for The Atlantic was a dream. To write about economics felt mildly nightmarish. I took the job anyway.

The typical day was something like this. I would wake up in the morning in a state of mild panic, knowing bupkis about my beat. My head was filled with embarrassingly big dumb questions. Why did recessions happen? How do you create a job? How do economies grow and shrink? What did the unemployment rate even mean?

Every day, I’d arrive at work at 9 a.m., desperately curious and unfathomably ignorant about some topic in the news—say, subprime loans. For several frantic hours, I’d read articles, call people, read articles, call more people. Then in the afternoon, I’d write for an audience of one: me, from 9 a.m. I wrote to explain the world to my (barely) past self. To my astonishment, people read what I wrote. They liked the stupid analogies, the movie and sports metaphors, and my habit of giving things names. I became a business editor, then a columnist, and finally a staff writer.

I’ve learned a few things over the past 13 years. When something doesn’t make sense to you, it probably doesn’t make sense to a million readers. When something seems kind of interesting to you, it’s probably kind of interesting to a million readers. The big dumb questions hanging around in our heads aren’t actually dumb. Those questions are the seeds for the best journalism. Most people wander through life feeling quietly curious and confused about the state of things. I’m very lucky. My job is to notice when I’m curious, and to notice when I’m confused, and to turn those noticings into words, and to hope that people enjoy reading the crystallization of a quietly shared curiosity.

This newsletter is about mysteries in the news. When I think about the articles I’m most proud of, they all ask a version of the same question: Why are things happening the way they’re happening, and what does it mean for the future? I especially plan to focus on two words in this newsletter’s title—the future of work; and human progress in science, technology, happiness, and beyond. Nobody really knows what the future of work is. Nobody really knows how to accelerate human progress. I’m not interested in these topics because I’m confident I have the answers. I’m interested in them because they’re important mysteries.

Thanks for reading. But please don’t just read. Respond, and disagree, and point out my confusions, and add clarity, and help me make sense of the world. Work in Progress is, well, just that.