A Marine’s private stories, shared on a global online stage

Photographs are an integral part of social media. Since the introduction of MySpace, to Facebook, to Twitter, and on and on, we’re bombarded with photos that complement narrative: the words, the status updates, the 140 characters or fewer. But a social-media platform called Cowbird goes deeper than the update-you-every-second style of much social media, and it does so in a unique way. Some members of the military have noticed, and are using Cowbird to share some of their personal stories.

Matthew Hodges as seen on his Cowbird.com profile

Cowbird uses a single photo to tell one story (though with a premium account, the site supports multiple-photo slide-show stories). The stories can be about anything, from a romantic couple to a Taliban ambush (warning: expletive language there). It seems that many Cowbird users possess much interest and talent in photography, because often you can almost understand an entire story solely by looking at the picture. Rather than focusing on the instant connectedness of most social-media services, Cowbird’s homepage uses the tagline, “The most beautiful place in the world to tell stories.”

U.S. soldiers have been using Cowbird as a platform to depict what their life is like overseas, or even how they are affected when they get back home. Cowbird brings the cliche of “a picture is worth a thousand words” to life, and makes you momentarily feel as if you are in the shoes of the storyteller.

One Cowbird-using soldier, U.S. Marine Matthew Hodges, has posted a few photos that tell the story of his deployment. Hodges’ images and accompanying stories certainly don’t glorify war. He has his “why am I here” complaints, and understandably so. But more importantly, Hodges presents stories that normally wouldn’t grab headlines, and puts them into a context that normal citizens can comprehend. It’s not the flying bullets, explosions-all-around, chaotic war stories that we see and hear in the news but can’t even begin to truly imagine.

In one of the Marine’s Cowbird photo-stories, for example, he has a simple picture of a young Afghani girl in a traditional but brilliant green gown, and he talks about how different that color is from the blue sky or the reddish brown sand that is ubiquitous in the Afghan environment. In another story, he goes a different direction and talks about his dad awkwardly breaking the news to him that a childhood friend of Matthew’s had died unexpectedly. It’s so interesting because Hodges is defined by his status as a U.S. Marine, and yet he allows us to peer into a very unrelated event in his life; and while it’s unrelated, it’s certainly not irrelevant, because it gives you the impression that you’re getting to know him as a person rather than just a username on a computer screen.

Through his stories on Cowbird, Hodges shows himself as a human being with real emotions that we can feel, he tells real stories of things we’ve been through, and he gives us a glimpse into the unimaginable parts of his life that makes his readers feel as if we can almost touch.

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  • Roger LaRue “The Walrus”

    Great story, I’m a medically retired Recon Marine from Viet Nam, I am going to look up “Cowbird”, and citified people should look up what a cow bird is, and what their job is.