Yale anthropologist Lisa Messeri paid close attention last fall when Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg shared his plans to invest billions into creating the “metaverse,” an immersive, digital world that he claims is humanity’s “next frontier.”
Messeri studies the places where technology and science are produced and how scientists and engineers build new worlds through their research and innovations. Her current research focuses on the virtual reality (VR) industry, which produces some of the technology that is seen as central to the metaverse. She worries that Zuckerberg’s metaverse will do more harm than good.
“In Zuckerberg’s hands the vision of sociality, community, and experience existing on this frontier will be devastatingly limited …,” she wrote in an essay published in Wired that placed the tech titan’s vision in historical and cultural context.
Messeri’s first book, “Placing Outer Space: An Earthly Ethnography of Other Worlds,” explored the ways planetary scientists transform the void of space into a cosmos populated with worlds that ignite people’s imaginations. Her next book will examine the people, places, and fantasies shaping VR and its simulated worlds.
Students have embraced Messeri’s anthropological approach to science and technology. She is a 2021 recipient of the Poorvu Family Fund for Academic Innovation award, which recognizes excellence in innovative teaching among Yale’s junior faculty.
Messeri, an assistant professor of anthropology in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, recently spoke to Mike Cummings from Yale News about her teaching, research, and skepticism of Zuckerberg’s metaverse vision.