Book Review: Hanging Out, Messing Around, Geeking Out

On the second day of school this year, two of my sixth graders came up to me, incredibly excited. These two bous asked if I would watch their latest video on Youtube. It was a video that captured them and their friends on scooters, on our school grounds, doing all sorts of neat tricks, set to pounding music. They were doubly-excited when I allowed them to share the video with the rest of the class, and now give me regular updates on their video exploits. The proud look on their faces was priceless, particularly that early in the year.

I mention this episode because these boys were on the back of my mind as I was reading through Hanging Out, Messing Around, Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media, a collection of ethnographic research studies out of MIT around youth and media and technology that are pulled together in a collective voice around themes such as friendship, family, intimacy, gaming, work, and more. What stands out for me here is how the authors so successfully captured the voices of youth through their various interviews with their subjects. We “hear” the kids talking through the use of social networking, and video gaming, and video production. It’s a fascinating look at what young people are doing, and why they are doing what they are doing in these various ecologies of connections. The sections around gaming and video use was particularly insightful as a teacher, and the sections on the disconnect between parents and their children was eye-opening as well.

It also reminds me that we need to have more of these conversations with our young people in our own spaces, whether that is our classroom or our homes.

It’s clear that the learning going on in traditional classrooms is not reaching many of these media-saturated youths, who see school only as another place to network and not necessarily as a place to learn skills around media production and technology use. After-school clubs and spaces fill that gap, to some degree, but mostly, it is youth turning to other youth for mentorship and collective knowledge around these ideas. They are driven by passions that we don’t always acknowledge or cherish in our schools. What the authors rightfully note, though, is that this horizontal learning of friend-to-friend can also leave a lot of kids out, adding to the difficulties of the digital divide/app gap/whateveryouwanttocallit. Access to technology remains a huge hurdle for many communities of kids.

Although much of the networking chapters revolve around MySpace, I just substituted Facebook in my head and it was fine (although the elements of MySpace that kids liked — such as completely designing your homepage yourself with hacks — doesn’t quite pertain to Facebook, and that lack of personaluty makes me wonder if another site will come along to drain young people away from Facebook now that MySpace is just about dead and gone.) I also imagined that the networking elements described in the studies, now a few years old, has magnified and intensified dramatically for many kids.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who teaches young people, or who has children growing up in this age of media and technology. The collection here is very scholarly in tone, as befits these enthnographic studies, but don’t let that academic tone turn you off. It’s worth diving through all of that to get to the heart of the matter: the fact that the ways in which¬† kids are learning is changing and most of that learning is being done outside of school. The book certainly made me think of my own boys, and my students, in a different sort of light.

As I was reading Hanging Out, Messing Around, Geeking Out, I was using Goodreads as a place to stop and reflect at various points in the book. Here is a copy of that page, which you need to read in reverse order if you want to follow my thinking from the start of the book until the end.
Reviews of Hanging Out

Peace (in the inquiry),


  1. I have had this book on my mind and I’m glad you grabbed for it, read it and loved it. Sounds great. Just what we want to hear about kids, right?
    I’m just about to begin a second year at Dover Middle School. What a perfect book for the teacher team to check out.

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