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  • Dear Cowbirders,

    This Valentine’s Day will be Cowbird’s fifth anniversary as a company.

    Over the past five years, we’ve told nearly 100,000 stories — stories about birth, youth, sex, love, work, war, faith, death, grief, grace, and countless other topics. Together, we created a public library of human experience, so our knowledge and wisdom could live on in the commons, as a resource for others to look to for guidance. We found beloved community here, forging deep and lasting connections.

    And yet, since 2012, many things have changed. We’ve come to realize how addictive digital technologies can be — how, by attempting to connect us, they often end up creating further isolation, trapping us in so-called filter bubbles, hypnotized by glowing rectangles, and disconnected from life. Meanwhile, services like Facebook and Instagram have seduced many of Cowbird’s earliest authors, and usage of Cowbird has steadily declined. In our early days, a typical day saw a thousand new stories; now a typical day sees about ten. Our community has coalesced around a core group of about 100 regular authors, who conduct most of the self-expression that happens on Cowbird today. As Dave and I have moved on with our lives, technical problems have begun to plague the site, frustrating regular users.

    Considering all of this, and with a heavy heart, we have decided to close Cowbird, shifting the site to a read-only archive, which we intend to keep online in perpetuity. You will be able to use Cowbird as normal until March 1, 2017. At that point, no new stories, comments, messages, or loves will be allowed, and no existing stories will be editable. Your login credentials will continue to work, and you will be able to download your data as a nicely-formatted zip archive, by visiting your Settings page. You will be able to delete individual stories or your entire account as you wish, and you will retain these abilities going forward. We feel this structure strikes a good balance between privacy and posterity, allowing you to manage your stories as life continues to unfold.

    Until March 1, 2017, nothing will change — you can use Cowbird as normal. On that day, we will make the shift to a read-only archive, as described, and we will refund all Cowbird Citizens the prorated remainder of their membership.

    We know this news will feel sad to many of you, especially our regular authors. But in every transition, there is an opportunity for healing and growth. Technology is poised to tighten its grip on us. With the advent of virtual reality, pushed by powerful forces like Facebook, the attention economy will become even more addictive. As the planetary climate continues to warm and the political climate continues to darken, the temptation to escape into virtual reality will become even stronger. And yet, might this rush to transcend the physical world actually end up leading us back into life? Our human bodies are the ultimate virtual reality machines, delivering a totally convincing experience of a self-consistent world, filled with the strange phenomena of time, space, choice, and emotion — and the feeling of being a person. This world we are blessed to inhabit is more vast and complex than the Internet, and more beautifully profound than any virtual world I believe we will ever create.

    To that end, I would like to invite Cowbird Citizens to a real-world gathering at my family’s farm in Vermont this summer. After five years of disembodied connection, we can meet each other in person, sharing stories around an actual fire. If you’re a Cowbird Citizen and you think you might be interested in attending, please email me at jonathan (at)

    Thank you for your participation in this beautiful community, for your understanding in this time of transition, and for your stories.

    With love and gratitude,

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