An examination of young people’s everyday new media practices—including video-game playing, text-messaging, digital media production, and social media use.
Conventional wisdom about young people’s use of digital technology often equates generational identity with technology identity: today’s teens seem constantly plugged in to video games, social networking sites, and text messaging. Yet there is little actual research that investigates the intricate dynamics of youths’ social and recreational use of digital media. Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out fills this gap, reporting on an ambitious three-year ethnographic investigation into how young people are living and learning with new media in varied settings—at home, in after-school programs, and in online spaces.Integrating twenty-three case studies—which include Harry Potter podcasting, video-game playing, music sharing, and online romantic breakups—in a unique collaborative authorship style, Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out is distinctive for its combination of in-depth description of specific group dynamics with conceptual analysis.
Ito and colleagues take an ecological approach to youth new media practice, looking for both commonalities and diversity, seeking to describe youth’s practices and how they affect “the dynamics of youth-adult negotiation over literacy, learning, and authoritative knowledge” (p. 2). They report on “a three-year ethnographic investigation of youth new media practice” (p. 2). They consider how these practices fit into social and cultural worlds and how they are meaningful in youth’s everyday lives. They take a sociology-of-youth-and-childhood approach, considering youth as social actors who can impact culture. Youth are both consumers and producers. The practices Ito and colleagues examine occur in social or recreational contexts rather than instructional contexts.
Ito and colleagues analyze their data around four concepts: “genres of participation,” “networked publics,” “peer-based learning,” and “new media literacy” (p. 14). Genres of participation include friendship-driven participation (“hanging out”) and interest-driven participation (“geeking out”). A third genre, “messing around,” bridges the other two. Youth transition between the three genres. “Networked publics” captures the socially- and technologically-mediated nature of youth spaces. Peer-based learning is reciprocal and not hierarchical, occuring in spaces where adults do not have authority. Ito and colleagues describe but do not prescribe new media literacies.
Having described youth practices, Ito and colleagues offer “potential sites of adult participation and intervention in youth practices” (p. 341). They suggest that adults and youth need to develop “a shared sense of what counts as valuable learning and positive sociability” (p. 343) and share equal contributions of interest and expertise.
Ito and colleagues point out that educators are often cut off from adult leaders in interest groups, and that it would benefit youth if these two groups coordinated their efforts. They emphasize that educators must provide youth with the tools they need to participate in these practices, and recognize that this may require access to content that is more social or recreational than “serious.” Learning environments and pedagogical interventions should be designed with the social, technical, and cultural support youth need in mind.
“In many ways, the crucial ingredient in youth engagement and successful adult intervention in these spaces seems to be a stance of mutual respect and reciprocity, where youth expertise, autonomy, and initiative are valued” (p. 350). Ito and colleagues conclude by imagining the goal of education to be not preparing youth for jobs and careers, but instead guiding them toward participation in public life by sharing the responsibility for education between schools and a “distributed network of people and institutions” (p. 352).