Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out

A couple of years ago, on my personal blog, I recorded some observations (since republished on this blog after I closed my old blog) on what I saw in the bar of a large Middle Eastern hotel, where groups of young people were making use of social technology in an interesting way. In that particular case, they were using bluetooth chat tools to cut through the socially conservative constraints that were in place to limit opportunities for young men and women to consort openly with each other in that part of the world. Apart from the immediate personal and social implications for the young people concerned, I speculated on the long term social, political and cultural reverberations that might occur as younger generations around the world break down barriers in this way.

I learned something interesting in that hotel bar back in August, something I am happy to admit I had thought little of previously. But one of the key issues with respect to the developing use of social technologies, social media, social networks and gaming by young people is the profound ignorance of most commentators about the realities of the online lives of young people. Not only are most commentators ignorant of these realities, they are often ignorant too about the risks associated with them and often completely oblivious to the dynamics of friendship, identity, communication and collaboration within the social technology spaces that young people inhabit. Too many ‘experts’ are willing to sound off, at the drop of a moralistic hat, usually in portentous terms, about the perils of social media in the hands of young people.

So, given the general levels of ignorance in this area, it is great to see the publication of a book – Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out – reporting on some fascinating and very wide-ranging research into precisely these issues. Funded by the John D and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation, the Informal Learning with Digital Media Project was a three year initiative, the aim of which was to document:

…youth practices of engagement with new media…[and analyze]…how these practices are part of negotiations between adults and youth over learning and literacy…

The question of negotation arises out of some key questions that the research project tried to answer in relation to the place of adult authority in the process of educating and socializing young people. Two divides lie behind these questions: one is the oft-mooted generational divide between youth and their elders today; the other is a divide that has been noted to exist between how learning happens in school and out of school.

The discourse of digital generations and digital youth posits that new media empower youth to challenge the social norms and educational agendas of their elders in unique ways. This book questions and investigates these claims.

The multi-faceted 3-year ethnographic study and this resulting book provide an exceptionally rich seam of data for those who genuinely want to try to understand the issues in young people’s use of digital technologies – it will probably be of little interest to those who are happy to continue to peddle
prejudice and specious assumptions. The book contains chapters on teen friendship and love, networked public culture, growing up in a cyber age, play, gaming, creative production, the world of work, and much more. A rich seam indeed.

A digital version of the book is available to be read online.

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