So there I was, in the middle of singing “She’s Got Freckles On Her But, She is Nice,” which as anyone who’s ever heard it can tell you, is a truly entertaining bit of musical Americana, and which I have been performing at parties since I was 16. As I paused between the 1st and 2nd verses, I noticed a fellow guest--a woman in her twenties--whipping her iPhone out of her pocket like it was a Colt 45. By the time I had gotten to “All the sailors give her chase, ‘cause they love her naval base,” she was waving it over her head, exclaiming “Hey, I’ve got more words here! I found the Pearl Trio singing it!”
This may seem on the surface to have been a harmless, enthusiastic contribution to the fun at hand, but it broke the momentum of the party (not just of the song). It was not the interrupting itself that was the problem; it was that the woman stepped out of the party (in the virtual sense). She was impelled to interrupt, by the seductive certitude that she could and would retrieve information instantly on her phone.
Now, some people may think my having the audacity to sing at a dinner party justifies whatever socially-incorrect behavior comes my way. (Though I swear it was a request from my host; anyway that’s my story and I’m sticking to it). But the point is that this kind of thing is what happens at every party now. Just when a conversation has begun to take on that wonderful organic spiral, with one subject leading naturally to another, deeper levels, more laughter and a heightened feeling of connection, someone will invariably stop to look something up on whatever internet device they happen to have--either to confirm some factoid, or simply because of the irresistible call of cyberspace (a drug few of us can resist for more than an hour or so.) Of course, the information is usually pertinent. But once someone breaks the flow by going “off-party,” the social energy in the room tends to dissipate. And once someone starts looking things up, it spreads like a virus.
In other words, before you know it, someone is looking up lyrics to another song, and then someone else texts a friend to find out where the first ukulele was made, and then everyone is checking their other texts and emails, until soon what you have at the party is a bunch of individuals staring into their little blue screens, mumbling to themselves.
It’s more important to stay focused on the people right in front of us. So what if we don’t get to hear the 4th verse of the song. So what if someone can’t say for sure whether some article in the Times came out last Wednesday or last Thursday. A party is supposed to be a sharing of fun, energy and ideas, not an exchange of data.
In any case, I prefer the Talbot Brothers version of “She’s Got Freckles on Her But, She is Nice” to the Pearl Trio version. And you won’t find it on-line.