Digital Youth Project: If you care about kids and want to understand how they use technology and why, this is a must-read


The Digital Youth Project, a MacArthur-funded three year, 22 case study, $3.3 million ethnographic study of what kids are doing online, has wound up and published its results. The project was undertaken by the eminent sociologist Mimi Ito and her talented colleagues (including the incomparable danah boyd) and is the largest and most comprehensive study of young peoples' internet use ever undertaken in the US.

The conclusions are sane, compassionate, and compelling: in a nutshell, the "serious" stuff we all hope kids will do online (researching papers and so on) are only possible within a framework of "hanging out, messing around and geeking out." That is to say, all the "time-wasting" social stuff kids do online are key to their explorations and education online.

Ito and her team establish a taxonomy of social activity, dividing it first into "peer-driven" and "interest-driven" -- the former being what kids do with their real-world friends, the latter being the niche interests that drive them to locate other people who are as fascinated as they are by whatever brand of esoterica they fancy.

Within these two categories, the researchers break things down further into "hanging out" (undirected, social activities), "messing around" (tinkering with media, networks and technologies) and "geeking out" (delving deep into subjects based on global communities of interest) and for each one, they describe the successful and unsuccessful techniques deployed by parents and educators to direct kids' activities.

All this is explained in a crisp, 55-page white paper, a snappy two-pager, and a full-length book called (appropriately), "Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media." All three are available as free downloads, naturally, and the book can also be purchased as a physical object in a year when it's published.

This project is the best set of research-driven recommendations and observations about young peoples' use of technology I've seen -- it's the perfect antidote to the scare stories of "internet addiction" and pedophiles stalking MySpace, and the endless refrain about "kids today." If you care about kids and want to understand how they use technology and why, this is a must-read.

Two-pager, White paper, Book: Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out (download), Digital Youth homepage

14

  1. wow. this is so fabulous. as a teacher, i’m always looking for ways to understand my kiddos better, and i can’t wait to read this paper–just the 2 page abstract is fascinating. windows into their lives are always helpful. i run the online program for our district, and it’s always a challenge to explain how technology is impacting our students to other teachers, many of whom live in fear of the kids “facebooking” (ugh colleagues’ word, not mine) or “myspacing”. so many people (read: teachers and administrators) in the older generation are terrified of youth use of the internet and cell phones because those things widen the locus of control and those old school educators don’t like that. but the american education system usually operates from a re-act rather than an act stance. and to me, that signals we operate from fear rather than curiosity. i’m curious myself to see if this information is used at all by the educational system. or if it’s just relegated to the circular file, deemed too revolutionary.

  2. I’m looking forward to reading this – I was able to manage about half the introduction on my breaks at work before I was interrupted.

    Thanks to Matt for the PDF of the book – much appreciated!

  3. #4 LittleBear

    “eXistenZ. Written like this, one word. Small e, capital X (i-s-t-e-n) capital Z”

  4. Thanks for the info CD. As an academic librarian trying to reach Millenials/Digital Natives/the next kewl name for we live for stuff like this.

  5. the “serious” stuff we all hope kids will do online (researching papers and so on) are only possible within a framework of “hanging out, messing around and geeking out.” That is to say, all the “time-wasting” social stuff kids do online are key to their explorations and education online.

    I wish this were true.

    I cannot begin to tell you the number of college students I see on a daily basis who don’t even have rudimentary abilities with word processing applications let alone other tools, applications, and abilities fast becoming the minimum tool box needed.

    If you know something about computers and use them in your work I would strongly urge you to quiz your child on the basics that you know and use each day. I think most parents will be unpleasantly surprised by the digital illiteracy they uncover.

    Your parents may not have been able to help you with computers but you can help your kids.

  6. Isn’t “hanging out”, “messing around” and “geeking out” pretty much the basis of all human understanding? Well, ignoring traditional teacher-driven knowledge, but who learns most of their stuff from that?

  7. Oh, and, #4: I always correct “corporate logo” style names, too. I’m in control of my language, not some faceless capitalist designer/marketing rep/kid who wants to be “different”.

  8. At some point, probably during adolescence, danah boyd got hit in the head with a copy of “The Collected Poems of e.e. cummings”

Comments are closed.