Last month, a Bitcoin-loving Redditor spotted a cookie and lemonade stand in San Francisco’s Noe Valley that accepted the virtual currency. After buying a Snickerdoodle for a fraction of a Bitcoin, he snapped a photo asking the girls to say “cheese for the Internet.” That they did. Soon, the girls identified as Mia and Taylor in the photo, were featured in online articles around the world, including at least one erroneous one that claimed that the Girl Scouts were now accepting Bitcoin, because apparently some people think that ‘girls selling cookies’ always equates to ‘girl scouts.’
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When I first saw the photo, I assumed a Bitcoiner was using the cute factor in the hopes of generating thousands in donations, like the college football fan who received $20,000 after flashing a “Hi Mom, Send Bitcoin” sign on ESPN. But then I tracked down the family behind the photo, and found the motivations were far more innocent that that (and that the returns were much lower than that). The first surprise to me — revealing some gender assumptions about virtual currency — was that the instigator for the Bitcoin offer was not the girls’ father, but rather their mother, Holly, an employee at a tech company in San Francisco. She got interested in Bitcoin during the craze last January, and has become obsessed with it.
“My husband does not want to hear about this,” she says. “He’s a musician; this is boring to him.”
When her 8-year-old’s elementary school class was studying the concept of money last year, Holly sent the teacher a note advising her to include virtual currencies in the lesson. The teacher never responded to the email. Holly decided she would teach the kids herself, with a real world lesson. When they decided to take their Christmas gift cookie stand to the farmer’s market to sell cookies, Holly set up a Bitcoin wallet for them and printed out the QR code so they might get a chance to see what a Bitcoin transaction is like. “Noe Valley is a neighborhood where lots of Facebook and Google people live so I thought they might know about Bitcoin and want to use it,” she says.
The cookie stand has now had three outings, and the girls have had just 2 Bitcoin sales, though they have received a couple hundred dollars worth of Bitcoin from supportive members of the community who saw the photo. The first Bitcoin buyer was the Redditor who snapped the photo that went viral. Holly was excited at first about the attention, but then a little disturbed by how the photo went around the world without anyone reaching out to the family.
“I was excited about promoting the cryptocurrency, but I was disturbed my kids were in a photograph that went all over the place, from a privacy perspective,” says Holly. “I was ultimately glad that people had no idea who we were because it is quite shocking to become internet famous!”
After the story went viral, Holly dubbed the stand, “Milk Road,” and created a blog to explain it in response to some people calling it a scam. ”I was really surprised by the global attention,” she says. “Maybe it’s because they’re little girls instead of little boys.”
Holly says her 8-year-old and 5-year-old don’t fully grasp Bitcoin, and they certainly are not in on the “Silk Road/Milk Road” joke.
“The kids just know it’s an online currency,” she says. “They don’t get why it’s special. They’re just learning about commerce. They know it’s a mean of exchange. They know they can accept this money and mommy can go home and check the wallet.”
Holly wants her children to know about Bitcoin early on so that they are prepared if the world changes.
“My kids will never know the experience of waiting by a phone for someone to call them. They’ll never do that. They could not even conceive of a world without an iPhone or iPad,” Holly says. She speculates that the credit card and money system could be similarly transformed by new technologies like Bitcoin.
“Kids can’t take in the complexity of the world all at once, and I’m not so good at explaining it. What I am good at is showing them the things that inspire me,” she says. “With experience and exposure I think one day the light bulbs will go on, and they will wiser than I am, at a far younger age.”