Reality Studies
Urgent Futures with Jesse Damiani
Lisa Messeri: Unreal Realities in Los Angeles and VR | Urgent Futures Ep. 8

Lisa Messeri: Unreal Realities in Los Angeles and VR | Urgent Futures Ep. 8

🎙️ Jesse sits down with Yale Anthropologist Lisa Messeri to discuss 'In the Land of the Unreal' & what the LA virtual reality scene of 2018 can teach us about fact, fantasy, & facade

Welcome to the Urgent Futures podcast, the show that finds signal in the noise. Each week, I sit down with leading thinkers whose research, concepts, and questions clarify the chaos, from culture to the cosmos.

The best way to support the show, you ask? Pop over to YouTube and hit that Subscribe button. You hear it all the time for a reason—nothing will help the channel grow more than that simple click.

Lisa Messeri is an associate professor in sociocultural anthropology at Yale University. Her research focuses on the norms, aspirations, and consequences of work done by expert communities as they forge new fields of knowledge and invention. She is the author of In the Land of the Unreal: Virtual and Other Realities in Los Angeles (Duke University Press, 2024) and Placing Outer Space: An Earthly Ethnography of Other Worlds (Duke University Press, 2016). Her research has been featured in The New York Times, CNN, The Wall Street Journal, National Geographic, PBS’s Nova Next, and Wired. Messeri received her Ph.D. from MIT’s program in History, Anthropology, and Science, Technology and Society.

All of the conversations I host on Urgent Futures are personal; they’re conversations with people I think understand something about the shape of things to come. But this conversation with Lisa was especially personal for me. In the Land of the Unreal is an ethnography of the VR community in Los Angeles in 2018. All three of these details hold great significance in my life.

I see my work in the VR community—in Los Angeles—starting in 2014, as the beginning of my professional career. Or at least my professional identity. Much of how I now understand reality and the real were also forged during this time. It’s an inevitable outcome of working in an industry that is making active claims about reality (however correct or not). Looking back, 2018 is when the first inklings of my ideas about Postreality started to come into view, when the initial VR hype had simmered, and when political realities came crashing into the tech’s utopian ideals.

I’ve spent the past few years reflecting on this time, feeling a little sheepish about the ways I was magnetized by some of these grand visions. Lisa’s book really captures what all of that felt like—in my view, it’s as close to being there as we’re going to be able to get. And most importantly, her elaboration of the concept of the unreal, this interplay between fact and fantasy, feels more relevant now than ever. Do yourself a favor and go buy the book!

Reality Studies Recommends:

NOTE: Purchasing through these links supports the work I do with Reality Studies. I will only ever share products that I would endorse regardless of financial incentive.

ZBiotics: Right now, get 10% off ZBiotics. Just head over to and use code JESSEDAMIANI. The next day after drinking feels way better when you take one of these. Art fairs have no shortage of alcohol—perfect time to test drive ZBiotics.

Genetically engineered by a team of PhD microbiologists, ZBiotics is a probiotic drink that breaks down the byproduct of alcohol responsible for rough mornings after drinking (acetaldehyde).

NordVPN: Right now, get up to 74% off + 3 months extra through this link. Some people tell me that “VPN” brings to mind ideas of hackers and the dark web, but honestly VPNs are just an extremely easy way to stay much safer online. I’ve used NordVPN for the past four years, and appreciate what they offer, including Threat Protection against malware, 24/7 customer support, fast speeds, and more. One account can protect up to 6 devices (phone and computer), and they don’t track or share what you do online. Another benefit: you can always access the content/apps you have at home, wherever in the world you are.

Mission Farms CBD: Mission Farms CBD crafts full-spectrum CBD products for specific conditions like sleep, stress, and discomfort, using a combination of CBD and terpenes found in essential oils. I swear by this stuff: I take one of their Marionberry Lemon gummies to end each day.

There’s a lot of junk CBD on the market. All of Mission Farms’s CBD comes from a small farm in Bend, Oregon. They farm the hemp organically, tend every plant by hand, and test for purity four times: the soil, the hemp, the hemp-extract, and the final products. This CBD is designed for wellness and it shows. Go to this link and use code HAPPYHEMP for 20% off.

CREDITS: This podcast is edited and produced by Adam Labrie and me, Jesse Damiani. Adam Labrie also directed, shot, and edited the video version of the podcast, which is available on YouTube. The podcast is presented by Reality Studies. If you appreciate the work I’m doing, please subscribe and share it with someone you think would enjoy it.

Find more episodes of Urgent Futures at: Past conversations include Taylor Lorenz, Asad J. Malik, Lia Halloran & Kip Thorne, Cherie Hu, Eric Czuleger, Idris Brewster, Dennis Yi Tenen, and more.

Reality Studies
Urgent Futures with Jesse Damiani
Welcome to the Urgent Futures Podcast, the show that brings you TOMORROW'S IDEAS TODAY. Each episode, I sit down with leading thinkers for big idea dialogues that clarify the chaos, from culture to the cosmos. Stick around to hear the research, concepts, and questions that animate their approaches to reality.