This book draws upon a rich assortment of ethnographic case studies from across the United States to examine how contemporary youth cultures engage with new media. As a broad-based qualitative study, each chapter focuses on the subjects important to young people, from negotiating relationships with friends and family, networking with peers in online gaming environments, through to developing technical skills and professional interests with websites, blogs and social media. In that sense, Hanging Out, Messing Around and Geeking Out is an excellent study of different individuals, peer groups and families relationships, showing how everyday interactions of young people and technology are invariably framed by issues such as peer status, knowledge and learning, identity, gender and economics.
The book's title is a memorable one, and comes from the author's desire to accurately capture the `three genres of participation' most relevant to young people and new media. The case studies quoted are highly descriptive, giving ample evidence to show how `young people's practices, learning, and identity formation' are intertwined and relational (31). The concept of `media ecology' is used to emphasize the interrelatedness of new media with more accepted structures of learning and cohabitation, such as schools and nuclear families. Their approach adds real value to way that media and technology is studied, showing that it is indelibly part of contemporary everyday life, where it exists on a continuum of high to low usage for both parents and teenagers. Though there is considerable focus on high-end users of technology (on the geekier-side of the scale), each study provides just as much information about young people who have little access to the internet and/or even mobile phones. As the book illustrates, teen attitudes towards internet and social media are ultimately framed by a combination of parental attitudes, peer expectations and personal interests.
A most engaging part of the book is the way in which case studies are tied into broader media and academic debates about media usage. This is particularly true of chapter 2, which examines the `hanging out' aspects of teen friendships through social networking sites like Facebook, Photobucket and Myspace. This chapter engages with the common perception that social networking sites expose teens to more dangerous forms of relationships with unfamiliar people. Hanging Out provides evidence to show how, as the majority of teens are aware of the risks, interviewees are much more interested in using new media to maintain existing offline relationships. Teens use social networking websites to organise friendships according to similar interests and values, meaning that applications like `Top Friends' on Myspace are well-suited to teenage obsessions with social status and popularity. Here the author's present a convincing account of teenage autonomy through which friendship is performed through websites, gadgets and widgets to extend school-based friendships, hierarchies and anxieties. Hanging Out is a brilliant resource not only for scholars interested in new research methods and findings about new media, but also for parents and teachers in understanding more about teenage patterns of media usage, technology and education.
A real strength in that respect is the breadth of different contexts from which insights are gleaned - from computer use for school projects in the home, networked relationships in remote school communities, to teens organising multiplayer online gaming events. There are plenty of situations that parents will identify with, just as many important points are made about different styles of parental and educational discipline. Such a cross section of multidisciplinary studies serves well to address the common misperception about `youth these days', and their supposedly mischievous, unruly use of technology - in the school classroom, at home and elsewhere. Above all, by showing that that `social participation and cultural identity' are central components of young people's learning experience (31), the book is a highly valuable contribution to both the media and educational scholarly fields.