Mimi Ito is a brilliant culture anthropologist studying young people’s use of new media. Mimi presented today at the UCI Digital Learning Lab on the results of a large three-year Digital Youth Research project she helped head up. The study captures the two main types of youth participation online, which they label as “hanging out” and “geeking out.” The former involves hanging out with peers online at Facebook and MySpace, and through instant messaging, and is basically an extension of peer social networking at school and in the community. Contacts are largely with people who are already known, adults and strangers are for the most part not welcome, and the social functions fulfilled are similar to those achieved by hanging out at the mall. The majority of U.S. youth “hang out” online. In contrast, “geeking out” involves more creative content production and distribution by a minority of youth in fan, video, anime, gaming, and other sites, and Ito provides some fascinating examles of “geeks” and their communities. Geeking out involves much higher level skills, puts youth in touch with people based on their interests rather than their immediate social networks (and thus involves contact with like-minded people around the world, including adult participation).
An interesting question is who gets access to developing these geeking out skills and who doesn’t; other than the fact that this is somewhat gendered (with male geeks more predominate in gaming sites and female geeks more predominate in online writing sites), I didn’t get much sense of this from Ito’s presentation. I look forward to reading more in the project reports.