Hanging Out, Messing Around, Geeking Out: A TTW Guest Post by Maria Papanastassiou

A Brief Synopsis

The book, Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media, is based on the findings of a large-scale collective of ethnographic studies conducted by y over 20 researchers at MIT from the Digital Youth Project on youth and their social/friendship-driven and interest-driven practices producing, consuming, and sharing media and technology.   The case studies offer pretty fascinating insights into youth culture and voices.  The authors of the studies concluded that youth often engage in three genres of participation with tech/media: hanging out, messing around and geeking out.    It is a participatory cultural progression in intensity and complexity both in terms of development (first social, then personal, and finally an enriching of both of those areas) and of learning.  Other topics addressed in the book include gaming, media production, and how media/ technology usage and access are impacting friendships, families, privacy, and dating.

The Three Genres of Youth Participation with Technology and Media

Hanging Out

In the hanging out phase, youth are often driven socially to interact with media based on extending their already existing friendships.   The primary focus here is on social development, usually conducted without adult supervision.   Youth are almost always “on” digitally even when physically with others, and may not have much time for reflection and introspection when dealing with others digitally as they do face-to-face.   The exchanges take place both privately (IM, texting) and publicly via social media outlets, with the public forum often leading to interpersonal and intrapersonal lessons that often have highly visible consequences.   Adults often place many judgments on this particular stage of media/tech interactions and will often attempt to dictate access.  Youth, however, are creating and dictating their own digital social norms.  As Thomas and Brown note, the question for this stage is “What is my relationship to others?” (2011).

Messing Around

During the messing around stage, youth are often independently and open-endedly experimenting with technology, exploring media, and seeking information to pursue more personal interests.  They are self-directedly acquiring new transliteracy skills and learning how to construct queries.  The level of involvement and investment is dictated individually.  They often share their creations with others to assess and provide feedback on, or to seek out technical assistance from.    Access to technology and media tools is essential for this phase, along with the autonomy to delve into their own interests and seek out information or to create/customize using media. They may experiment with repurposing tech tools or creating work-arounds for tech/media issues.    Regardless of whether there is an end-product or goal fulfilled, the tinkering aspect allows youth to gain new skills and knowledge.

Geeking Out

In the geeking out stage, youth focus in on interest(s) more intensely that develop both their personal and social agencies while building deep knowledge and proficiencies.  Whether this takes the guise of online gaming, fan activities, or media creations, youth are deeply involved in manipulating technology, creating and/or remixing media and collaborative knowledge-building/sharing  via specialized knowledge networks based on their personal interests.   This involvement often centers on online communities of experts, often dealing with peers (and sometimes adults) to seek out and provide information and assistance to others.   Peer-based feedback and sharing are essential and reciprocity is expected in this phase, especially when it helps establish authority or expertise.  This stage develops more deeply a youth’s personal and social personas and interests.

Youth and Transformative Learning

Youth are practicing their own form of transformative learning via their progressive acts of hanging out, messing around, and geeking out.  They are often engaging (often unknowingly) in deep learning, extending themselves beyond gaining explicit knowledge and instead dealing in tacit knowledge while they take greater ownership of their personal and social roles (Thomas & Brown, 2011, & Transformative Learning Theory, 2007).  They have embraced that learning processes can be fun, messy, challenging, and potentially intimidating/scary, but  create the opportunity for subjective reframing (Mezirow, 1997, p. 7). Youth are most often turning to each other to build knowledge and connect with media and technology instead of school or the library, probably because they aren’t finding validation for their interests via these venues or their methods of learning; this is unfortunate as it most definitely supports their personal and developmental needs.  When not under the direct guidance of parental or educational authorities, students are seen to assume more adult-like roles and increased ownership of how they present themselves, and their learning and peer evaluation (Mizuko et al, 2009).

What can librarians and trainers glean from these works?

Librarians and trainers can aptly take much from this large-scale study.  Dr. Pinkard of the Digital Youth Network notes that literacy (and illiteracy) are defined by the technology of the time so to be “literate in 2020 will mean being multi-literate: the ability to critically consume and produce media such as print, video, sound and screen” (Pinkard, 2011, Rethinking Our Definitions of Literacy). Because we as librarians are concerned with literacy, we need to offer opportunities for literacy development and promotion in all different medias.  Although the research for this book was conducted on youth, I think providing patrons regardless of age with a venue for play and examination with media and technology is crucial.  For the “Hanging Out” stage, I don’t think libraries should be afraid of social media (which many seem to be).  I think they should embrace it.  Engage with patrons, whether via Facebook, Goodreads or Twitter.

For “Messing Around”, it would be wonderful to provide patrons with access to tools to experiment and play with tech without set learning goals, but rather an open venue.   It was emphasized repeatedly in the book that youth needed to have the opportunity for open-ended tinkering in order to transition to a more in-depth involvement with learning and engagement.  Effective examples of youth media programs are centered on the youths’ own passions and interests and allot sufficient unstructured time so youth can fiddle around and explore without the need to heed direct instruction (Mizuko et al, 2009).   In the place of classroom teachers, lab teachers/leaders do not assume traditional authority roles in which their job is to assess youths’ abilities, but instead should aspire to be co-conspirators and collaborators (Mizuko et al, 2009).  An excellent example of a media lab that has been quite successful is the YOUmedia lab at the Chicago Public Library.

There have been other successful media labs that have been created for adults as well, such as the Skokie Public Library’s studio’s media lab which has served as a model for other libraries.

For “Geeking Out”, youth provide an excellent example of the types of deep learning and collaborative knowledge-building that can transpire in a Learning 2.0 program.  They have modeled the need and expectation for play as a means of deep learning, a concept that not all adults are comfortable with.   Libraries can offer programming that allows for in-depth play with librarians embracing the role of guide on the side. As Thomas and Brown point out, a fusion of information and experimentation lead to a new culture of learning, which youth exemplify (2011, p. 117).  We would do well to heed the cultural change that youth are creating and embracing and consider this in our library programming and services.


Ito, Mizuko (ed.).  (2009).  Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media.  Cambridge, MA : MIT Press.

Mezirow, J. (1997), Transformative Learning: Theory to Practice. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education. Retrieved fromhttp://www.ecolas.eu/content/images/Mezirow%20Transformative%20Learning.pdf

Pinkard, N.  (2011, February).  Rethinking our definitions of literacy.  Ex?ert Q & A [weblog].  Retrieved fromhttp://www.pbs.org/parents/experts/archive/2011/02/rethinking-our-definitions-of.html#

Transformative Learning Theory.  (2007, January).  “Core Principles of Transformative Learning Theory”.  Available at http://transformativelearningtheory.com/corePrinciples.html

Thomas, D., & Brown, J. (2011). A new culture of learning: Cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change. Charleston, SC: CreateSpace.


shot_1312681777670Maria Papanastassiou is a graduate student at San Jose State University’s School of Library and Information Science.  After her graduation in May 2013, she will be pursuing her certification in order to become a teacher librarian in Illinois.  Maria’s interests include young adult literature, emerging technologies, and promoting transliteracy.