American Television and the Flock

The new television season began recently in the U.S. And two writers – Neal Gabler from the Los Angeles Times and David Brooks from the New York Times – wrote about an interesting feature (something you notice) of many of the new shows – the importance of the flock.

When we use the word flock, we’re usually talking about a group of animals – sheep, goats, or birds. But these writers are using it a little differently to refer to a large group of people that are related to each other as friends, family members, or neighbors.

Both writers say that we’ll be seeing “lots of folks (people) spending the better part (most) of their day surrounded by their friends and family….” They will wander (walk without a specific purpose) “into the unlocked apartments and homes of friends, family, and neighbors, at any time of the day or night.” Gabler and Brooks say that television has become a “friendship machine” that distributes, or provides, “groups of people…sitting around living rooms, restaurants, and coffee shops, sharing everything all the time.”

What is different about this? In the past, many American TV programs have been about individuals, close friends, and the nuclear family (husband, wife, and children). The new shows are expanding the circle (increasing the number and kind) of relationships that people participate in.

This trend (the way something is developing or changing) began about 20 years ago, according to the two writers. It began with Seinfeld and moved on through Friends, Sex and the City, Desperate Housewives, and other shows. Two of this year’s new shows – Raising Hope and Better with You – continue the trend.

This trend is remarkable (unusual or surprising) because scientists tell us that fewer and fewer Americans have close friends. In one recent study, 25% of the people said they had no one to confide in (talk to about personal things). Another study found that the average American has only four close relationships, including family members.

The two writers wonder if the decline (decrease in number or importance) in real friendships may explain why social-networking web sites – like Facebook, where you can be “friended” – have become so popular. But they also worry that virtual (online) friendships are a poor substitute (replacement) for having real people that you can meet, talk to, and share your life with.

At the end of his article, Neal Gabler suggests that “we miss the friendships we no longer have, and we know that Facebook or e-mails cannot possibly compensate for (replace, or take the place of) the loss. So we sit in front of our television sets and enjoy the dream of friendship instead: a dream where we need never be alone, where there is a group of people who would do anything for us, and where everyone seems to understand us….”

I’m curious – do you think these two writers are right? Have these television shows become popular because we have fewer real, close friends? Do we really live in a world where we can only dream about real friendship? How does this compare with what you see in your country? Is it similar, or is it different?

Warren Ediger – ESL tutor and coach; creator of Successful English, where you can find clear explanations and practical suggestions for improving your English.

Photo by Hot Rod used under Creative Commons license.

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28 Responses to American Television and the Flock

  1. Peter says:

    Another words, television has become the focal point of every living room across North America and the world at large.

    Nice touch Warren,
    You posted a group picture of acters and actresses of the word-class sitcom show ” Friends.”
    Nice articles my friend.
    The way I look at it, technology has brought upon us the solitary confinement you point out in the article.
    The advance of technology has introduced today’s mankind with the myriad of ultra-advanced ,smart ecleterical gadgets. The small, poket size devices that one can carry them around,devices that have a mind of their own. Theses small pieces of technology promot nothing but solitary lives due to increasing dependency of menkind on them.
    Interestingly enough, I am sitting at the corner of a close quarter coffeehouse upstate of Toronto
    Interacting with you guys through one of those electrical entrapment called iPhone. And ,as I was reading the article ,I couldn’t help but notice that of all
    people around me( 20 people) ,all of them lounging around in this place looking pensive and concerned while staring at their laptops, blackberries , or
    iPhones with no aware of their surrounding. Their eye are so sewed up into their gadets as if they are digging out something valuable from those human-controlled devices. It is sad , but it is true.
    Now, I am totally self-conscious, feeling like I am here among a bunch of humanoids who are programmed to gaze at a small screen and to keyboard something meaningless on the displace. What that bothers me the most is the only thing that abrupt this deplorable process is an occasional seep from an
    Stone-cold coffee.
    Peace out
    Warren , you outdid yourself for pointing out the harsh fact in respect to today’s humanoid kind.

  2. Talal says:

    well, I would say that it is true in my country, to a certain extent, back in my grandfather generation, people were remarkably different, they were very friendly , very hospitable, very frank and honest, to a degree that you cant imagine,but nowadays people are sort of splitting apart from each other, the previous sentence can be explained be a whole book, but briefly , globalization and modern technology is to blame , trust me on that, the sociability of this generation (generally speaking) is becoming less and less , what do i mean by sociability??? well, I mean a friend that you can trust and be comfortable with, a friend that you can sacrifice anything for him/her, a friend like Dr.Jeff is hard to come by , i am not flattering him, please … , I speak from experience, rest assured.
    I think Dr.jeff is very adorable and famous as well worldwide , perhaps even more than Tom Cruise , hahahaha

  3. Talal says:

    I want to point out to something very important, I think self-interest is playing an important role as well, people now (at least in my country) judging by certain standards, It is difficult to determine them , by generally speaking , nowadays cash demand is tremendous, and people are classifies into (so are called) : first class, second class and third class, people respect the rich persons and look up to them, poor people are neglected in some way, I dont know how to explain it , I mean (generally speaking again, dont take my word for it ) self- interest , and what i mean by that is why would I socialize with u ?? who r u basically??? do I benefit from my friendship with u financially or something ) sorry i cant explain it in English but believe my , in my country , its quite common , we have a saying that says “if u wanna break off with a relative or friend, share with him a business ”
    regards from Greece

  4. emiliano says:

    Warren this subject touch my heart directly.
    Friendship is one of the most important things in my life, and I am a very lucky person about this so important form of living.
    I have had close friends always along my life, yes that´s true.
    Friends fill our lifes and they have filled mine for years.
    One of them is in my life for more than fifty years, from the school. His wife and sons has been close to us always.
    Another is in my life for more that thirty five years, and the same about his wife, close friend too, also their daughters.
    Living near to them has been a great help to mantain the frienship.
    My dears Camila and Alicia are friends for nearly twenty years, and we have been traveling with them through Europe and
    Spain when we can. They have helped me as nobody can imagine.
    Now there is a couple from SouthAmerica who are very close to us since three years more or less, and they are faithfull
    good friends too.

    Cuca and me have very special good friends outside Spain too, and they have been very important in our life along years.

    Yes, I could write a book about this feeling, also about the help I have received from all of them. So, what can I say about this
    In fact, the real thing is that I am very lucky, because I know it´s very difficult to have only one.
    Sometimes one is enough, the closest person could be your best friend and may be you don´t need any more in life.
    Fortunate are the persons who have this friend in home…., yes they are.

    Along the years feelings change too, and the close friend of a time it´s possible that by the circunstancies of life
    is not so close now. Life change, persons too, but it´s necessary to be patient knowing that all of us make mistakes and there is not
    one person perfect.
    Now one of my closest friends lives outside, and he is the one I have most confidence to tell him everything, so yes everything is
    possible if we have good disposition and have an open generous mind.

    Thank you Warren, this is my best theme of all.

  5. Peter says:

    As our world becomes progressively studed with machines ,mankind would virtually become a part of the whole machinery system that governs our destiny,and regulates our fates.
    it is not far in the future that we will find ourselves living on a humangous piece of God-forsaken rock we used call earth!
    It is a prophecy that I heard once from a visionary.

  6. emiliano says:

    Thinking about your questions Warren I could say, in my opinion of course, that I don´t agree with the supposition that friendship is going fewer. Is going fewer love?. Or generosity?. Volunteer associations?….., No, I don´t think so.
    Persons inner feelings don´t change so fast, it doesn´t matter if in our world we could have internet, mails, or mobile phones, men and women are the same with different garments or devices.
    Who writes with a feather hundred of years ago afterward writes with a pen, and now writes with a pc. by mail.
    Who has an open mind to talk with people in person, talks by phone and phones frequently to their friends.
    Who was willing to receive friends in their homes is willing now to do just the same.

    That´s my point of view of course, I have been living for many years and I have seen all electronic device changes, but we could do a
    good or a bad use of them, it depends of our inner personality not the technology.
    Lack of faith, lack of education or ethic, lack of honesty it´s the problem of all centuries along history, not technology.
    Thousands of years ago men kill other men with stones, spears, or swords instead of the weapons we have now, but the mean is the
    same only the procedures change.

    When I was young there wasn´t tv., or phone at home, freezer, and so on.
    I liked to write by pen and sent letters by mail to my far away friends.
    Now I like to do just the same but it´s easier.
    It´s necessary to have a bit of generosity to dedicate time to the people we love, to the people we write, to the people we care, and there aren´t any changes at all. It only depends of the kind of person we are, that´s all.

    In Spain there are hundred thousands persons that have nothing, and Caritas, the voluntaree christian association is giving more food, help, clothing and care than ever before. Yesterday I listened to the chief of this association and he said that despite the Crisis the generosity of people has increased a lot.
    There are hundred of thousands more little donations that on the past years.
    Why? Is there a bad change?, no, by the contrary against penalities the solidarity of people here has increased.
    Men and women don´t change so easy by some fascinating technology. Ideas, good or bad education, lack of morality…..these are the subjects that could change a generation…., but only for a period of time, I think or I hope.

    Regards. emiliano

  7. Peter says:

    Believe you me, the mundane chore of everyday life takes a lot out of us, do it is nice to go over board from time to time and spice up our night out

  8. Echo says:

    It is a meaningful article.I believe whatever the world changes,we human being long to own the true feelings never changed.God put the awareness of eternal into our hearts.The most significant point is we are the same in essence.
    I notice all the replies and try to understand the different situations from different countries,my view is pretty much like emiliano’s.It’s all about ourselves,I guess. If without the development of tech knowledge,I never can find the great podcast at least. Hola, emiliano^_^..just like you,I am lucky as well.I cherish what I have own and moreover the Bible told me that if you want others treat you with true heart and respect,you should do the same thing at first.I am inspired by those words,and I believe it without any doubt.
    And I was wondering Talal.. are you Chinese?I just feel your description reflects most people’s thoughts in China.and I am Chinese^_^But there always exist true relationships,we need to be confident about people,and care about our relations actively.
    At last,thanks all of you.

  9. Peter says:

    Needless to say that Toronto experience a wild night lastnight.
    On my way back home late into night , I drove by a significant number of disguised figures hanging around ,some drunken ,some sober.they looked wiered,exotic,contorted,and disfigured ,but all the disparity shared a common tone which was the tone of happy smiles blended in distort, creepy , funny faces .Yes , last night, Toronto was happy as people were celebrating Halloween. And, tonight, once again the legacy color the city red!!!!

  10. Peter says:

    It is amazing Jeff,
    I don’t know how to put it
    Ur blog, ur program has created a keen sense of kinship among us
    See, we share intimate stuff about our life and what surronds our life.

  11. Peter says:

    From the look of it , it could be added that Toronto ,and Toronto is all fun ,and nothing but fun. You are sadly mistaken my friends.
    Living in Toronto means long hours of hardship and sweat breaking off with short moments of shallow fun.yes , that is the case pals
    That is the case.
    Yet, Toronto is a great place to live.
    See ,the paradox
    But, irbid so true
    Come and see for yourself
    But, you don’t wanna conduct the experiment in winter time,that is for sure

  12. Peter says:

    As a habitual reader of Learning guide, I just discovered that my regular visit at the station has subconsciously influenced my working English skills almost three folds in comparison with the time I was just a regular Eslpod listener.
    fall into the habit of reading learning guid that just good comes from it.
    Even the residual effect of it is positive.
    It is an addiction with no withdrawal affects, What is so over:))))))

  13. Tania says:

    Hi! I think the social-networking web sites have become so popular among the people who are :
    -working very hard all day long and they do not have time for friends;
    -with all kinds of problems and they need to escape in a new life, for instance “The Second Life”;
    -teen-agers. It is trendy to travel and live in a virtual life. In fact you can find out a compatible person with you with the same preoccupations.
    -fond of IT ;

    I am a lonely person but I am not fond of IT or TV. They are very dangerous for our health.

    I wish you all real friendships,


  14. Tania says:

    Hi! I cite from your mentioned articles. Among the reasons of the decline in real friendships are economic pressures and anxieties;
    women entering the work-place in full-time employment by necessity and thus disengaging from their friends and neighbors , more time spent commuting and I’d say shopping and fixing a car.
    Then , men prefer to get married later than women. And many young women are alone without friends. So, an escape on TV where friends never come in pairs, only in groups of three or more.
    Fewer and fewer people have close friends.
    Thanks to the segmentation of society, people segregate their different friendship circles: work friends, business friends, play friends, college friends, rich and poor friends.

    And the rich friends forget the poor friends. After our “revolution” from my country we have very rich friends but who forget we were friends.

  15. Tania says:

    Hi! People don’t want to be alone in front of their TV sets. I think this is specific to the rich countries with a big consumption where people want to be together for eating, drinking, watching TV, laughing…

    We also meet together with our friends at a football match on TV for enjoying, rooting for our favorite team and crying …goooooal!

  16. Tania says:

    Hi! “A love, free from instinct, free from all duties, free from jealousy , is eminently spiritual.
    It is the sort of love one can imagine between angels.”

  17. Tania says:

    Hi! I have read an article on Yahoo about “trick-or-treat” on Halloween: to create an ordinance banning high-school teenagers – that is , anyone over the age of 12 – from trick-or-treating as people are less than happy
    about the “6-foot-tall kids” that ring their doorbells on Halloween.

    And we, the Romanians, have just borrowed this custom. In this period of time we have Halloween costum stores, of course in our big cities.

  18. Tania says:

    Hi! Dr. Jeff was our friendly host on Halloween last year. Now you are, dear Warren. In fact all ESL PODCAST team.
    In an orange and black decor all vampires throw orange, purple, and black confetti into the air screaming : trick-or-treat?
    And vampires sometimes eat toffee apples and pumpkin pies.

    Only harmless spirits,


  19. Tania says:

    Hi! And now a short spooky Halloween message:
    A “blood” red roses and a few drops of “blood” to you all from a vampire from Romania.

    Please, don’t tell me: “you are not good enough for us” . I am not Bella Swan from Twilight.


  20. Tania says:

    Hi! Dear Emiliano, you asked me to tell you if I am not affraid of vampires. Who’s affraid of the vampires? But I am a vampire.

    You have to believe me I have watched only Dracula movie. I do not prefer this genre of movies. But after the English Cafe 227 on vampires I had to read Dracula by Bram Stoker and watch “New Moon” from Twilight.
    Yes, if I had been a high-school girl…

  21. emiliano says:

    Dear Tania, Ja, Ja, Ja, here in Spain I could said you “Tania eres la monda” but I couldn´t traslate it to English, more or less it means “you are a scream” or “you are amazing”……..but what you have is “quite a good memory” as you remember perfectly well what I said.

    All my girls, Cuca, and other friends have read about the adventures and misadventures of Bella Swan, she is famous here at home and in all over Madrid, Spain or the rest of the world.

    But I have another novel to recomend you “The Historian” from Elizabeth Kostova.
    Her father told her stories about Dracula while they were living in Ljubljana, Slovenia, he was a teacher born in Bulgaria, I think, also she is interested in all about the Carpatos, Bulgaria, Romanian folklore, and she has written another new story about The Vampire…..Dracula.
    The novel is very good written, has a lot of good history, and tells very much about carpathian slavs countries and people.

    Try it in English, it isn´t difficult, she thanks Dr. Radu Georgesku of the University of Bucharest´s Archeological Museum in the prologue, sure you know him….., well I met the Dr. Georgesku in one of my travells through The Carpathians.

    Best regards Tania, and congratulations for that so good memory of you….., fascinating.

  22. emiliano says:

    In the book E. Kostova tells us that Dracula is still alive, ….or not ? and he lives….?…where is He still living today?

    Well, I am not going to tell you, if you want to know just read it, amazing.
    That´s the reason I told you….”be careful with your walks through the Carpatian´s Forest”
    and tonight even more, you could meet just another different person that Edward Cullen….ja, ja,……no so nicer good boy.

    See you soon, Dear Tania, and take care.

  23. emiliano says:

    To all who could read in Spanish there is another good story from Gustavo Adolfo Becquer, a Spanish writer, which title is
    “El Monte de las Animas”.
    It takes place in Soria, Middle Ages, and tells a story about “Wandering Spirit Templars” and of course it happens to a young man who doesn´t belive in stories about errant spirits on the 31st of October in an old castle of Soria, Spain.

    There is a Comic Book also from David Rubin with the same title in Spanish.
    Really very nice, and I think it could be free in the web.


  24. Bill wang says:


    i agree with you. the same in China, money is most important here, it’s terrible and i don’t like it. i think the reason is most Chinese have no faith and the communist party destroyed Chinese tradition in the past 6 decades, so there’s no good moral standard and value standard here and people make decision based on their own profits, it’s jungle rule here. but i think Greece is a contry with religion tradition, why people become similar as Chinese?

    best wishes,


  25. Bill wang says:


    i found you are a so learned person, read so many literatures and remember them. i hope i can live in this way, but i alway feel i can not calm for reading and also do not have enough time for reading. you know living is not easy in China, there’re always so many things bore me. i dream one day, i can do the thing i like, but i think maybe it’s impossible.

    best wisehs,


  26. emiliano says:

    Hi Bill, here in Spain we have a said that tells: “Knows more the Devil for old than for Devil” an by my side it´s just
    the same, living so many years I have the opportunity of reading more books and watch to more movies than a
    young person.
    Life teachs us lot of things if we have an open mind, a bit of intelligence and to much curiosity, that´s all.
    China has a millenary culture and tradition that not any communist or capitalist party could destroyed, I´m sure
    about that.
    Your Millenary Wisdom flows to us continuously through ideas, books, spirit and just the way of living in peace.

    China culture and history is one of the most important of the world that has great influence by thousands of
    years through the whole globe.
    To me is one of the most fascinating countries a person could visit and study.

    Regards, emiliano.

  27. This point is really important to understand today in this mysterious and confusing world. People, as they have been since the early times of mankind, are out of themselves in terms of gathering people together for a talk without interests. This world has changed the wrong way; people don’t understand how to get other’s interest without seeing money behind the scene. There was a time when family used to get together and have good time with childish plays, telling stories of fables, talking about the elderly of the family, things that grandparents used to do or say, playing cards, full of cheers. On Saturday in the afternoon, the family sat around a table and had a delicious homemade snack; children took hand to hand and went dancing and singing old songs, the grownups watching from a distance, the traditions were passed generations after generations. Today, the TV plays a role that is not a good one for gather the family. Everyone stays in front of the TV and forgets the rest of the world. But the question is: what to do? Can we change things that have tuned into habits of everyone? All we can do is watch and wait.
    Bad for us.
    Aecio from beautiful Brazil.

  28. Tania says:

    Hi! Thank you to all of you. Thank you, dear Emiliano.

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