I Hear America Singing — Walt Whitman at the Karaoke Café

Every couple of years America’s diplomats overseas are expected to come back to the U.S. for at least one month on “home leave” “to ensure that employees who live abroad for an extended period undergo reorientation and re-exposure in the United States on a regular basis.” During my home leave last summer I visited family in California and Arizona and enjoyed getting out and talking to people in restaurants and other crowds just to get a sense of what people were talking about. I wrote a small piece about being back in the U.S. for a magazine in the UK (where I had most recently served) noting that I was “enjoying immersing myself in the crowds and hearing the chatter.”

And now that I am in DC for the year I’m making a point of getting out and seeing the things I hadn’t seen before. An excellent jumping off point was Meetup.com. It was an organization I had first come across in the UK. The organizer of the London American Expat Meetup Group had asked whether his organization could be listed on our list of American organizations in the UK. At first, I have to admit, I was a bit dubious about any Internet-based organization touting itself as a “meetup” group. What was its purpose? But after looking at its website and the types of discussion taking place there I saw that this organization was an incredible vehicle for quick immersion in a physical human community of common interest.

When I arrived in DC I was now the one in need of involving myself in the community, and through Meetup.Com I found groups interested in Arabic, in political discussion, in folk songs, in karaoke and much more.

I just got back from my karaoke meetup this afternoon. And while online interaction is great, and opens up a discussion to a far greater number or an extended time, there are some things that still require that you be there.

As we look at Web 2.0 and Gov 2.0, the full palette includes those things that can combine the virtual with the physical. Sometimes you have to just be there physically to hear and participate in the banter, to join in the camaraderie of bringing snacks for the group, and in listening to the varied range of songs and talent at a karaoke session.

I HEAR America singing, the varied carols I hear;
Those of mechanics—each one singing his, as it should be, blithe and strong;
The carpenter singing his, as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his, as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work;
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat—the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck;
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench—the hatter singing as he stands;
The wood-cutter’s song—the ploughboy’s, on his way in the morning, or at the noon intermission, or at sundown;
The delicious singing of the mother—or of the young wife at work—or of the girl sewing or washing—Each singing what belongs to her, and to none else;
The day what belongs to the day—At night, the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing, with open mouths, their strong melodious songs.

Whitman would have loved karaoke.

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