Ito, M. (ed.) (2009). Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media. Cambridge, MA, USA: MIT Press. Retrieved from http://www.ebrary.com
Do teenagers waste their time by using social media? No, according to a recent three-year study conducted by the MacArthur Foundation and led by Mary Ito. Hanging Out, Messing Around and Geeking Out is a report by Prof. Ito and her 23 colleagues on the study and its key findings.
This book fills a gap in research on teenage online behaviour. Rather than taking a negative technological deterministic view, the authors seek to understand how these tools improve the teenagers’ development of their personal networks, personal growth and technical skills. Opting out of social media is no longer an option; teens need to learn how to use video, blogs and social media in order to survive in the wired world.
The book is divided into seven sections: Media Ecologies, Friendship, Family, Intimacy, Gaming, Creative Production and Work. Through practical examples, these essats demonstrate how technology has transformed the adolescent experience. In addition to Ito’s papers, There are also contributions from notable experts such as Danah Boyd, Mizuko Ito, Sonja Baumer, Matteo Bittanti, Rachel Cody, Becky Herr Stephenson, Heather A. Horst, Patricia G. Lange, Dilan Mahendran, Katynka Z. Martínez, C. J. Pascoe, Dan Perkel, Laura Robinson, Christo Sims and Lisa Tripp.
This book is useful for educators, parents and people interested in studying the psychology of teenagers. Reference is made to the names of Internet services which were in use at the time of publication but which have become superseded. That does not detract from the usefulness of these essays.
The first chapter (Media Ecologies) describes how technology has become embedded within teenage life. This is emphasized in the word Ecology, “to emphasize the characteristics of an overall technical, social, cultural, and place-based system, in which the components are not decomposable or separable”.
“Hypersocial” teenagers are said to seamlessly shift between the physical and digital environments. For example, in Chapter 4, Heather A. Horst describes an instance of two girls socializing through editing photos for their MySpace page. Even though they appeared to be disconnected, sitting at separate monitors, they were actually socializing with one another by collaborating, sharing stories and telling jokes. The computers were not distracting them from socializing; rather, they used them as a tool for work and socializing.
Much of the book recounts direct observations of teens’ behaviour collected in the study. Sidebars present anecdotes providing a closer look at actual teenage experiences. Ito’s conclusion reaffirms the importance of technology in teens’ social lives and education and convincingly argues that, rather than amounting to a waste of their time, social media, when used with care, can enhance teens’ learning, their relationships with their friends and family and help them build skills with real, long-lasting value. Those looking to create tools to pursue these goals will find this book both informative and thought-provoking.