How to Explain Bitcoin to Your Family This Thanksgiving

How to Explain Bitcoin to Your Family This Thanksgiving

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Extended family having thanksgiving dinner.

The following article is a reader submission by Eric Sammons.

You’re sitting at the Thanksgiving table, and your aunt is going on and on about where she is going to shop on Black Friday. When she mentions Target, your cousin remarks that her credit card was stolen in their data breach a few years ago. You quickly say, “That wouldn’t have happened if you used Bitcoin,” which leads to an awkward silence. “Isn’t that what people use to buy illegal drugs?” your cousin finally asks, while your other relatives nod their heads. At this point, you don’t know where to begin.

Also Read: Gaming on the Blockchain: The Transition to Decentralized Play Systems

thanksgiving-dinnerBitcoin represents a paradigm shift, not only in how we spend money but in money itself. Inevitably it will be met with confusion, even resistance. Those of us who have embraced the cryptocurrency need to realize that it will take some time for our friends and family to understand the potential for this technology. What can we do to help them along?

How Does Bitcoin Help Me?

credit-cardFirst, present the benefits of Bitcoin in a practical way – how does it help them? Most people are comfortable using credit cards and don’t feel they have been harmed directly by credit card fraud. Even if your cousin has had her credit card stolen, the bank usually picks up the bill, so she feels like it doesn’t impact her directly. In this case, mention the enormous costs involved in credit card fraud – over $32 billion last year, according to one study – and note that someone has to pick up that tab. Connect that cost to her directly. Ask, “Who pays for the $32 billion?” Most will say the banks, but point out that they push those costs to merchants in the form of credit card fees. “Too bad for them,” she might respond. Explain that merchants pass on those fees in the form of higher prices. So, in effect, that $32 billion is paid by consumers, i.e. you and me – all because of an inefficient payment network that was designed back when the hula hoop was all the rage.

So at this point, you can ask: “Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to send money across the Internet that was cheap and not prone to such fraud?” And of course, there is – Bitcoin.

The first thing to do is to compare the cryptocurrency to cash. Remind your cousin that when she pays for something with cash, she doesn’t have to give away any of her personal details unless the purchase requires it, and more importantly, the merchant has no access to any more of her cash than what she gave him. Isn’t this less open to fraud and future theft? Once she sees this, explain that Bitcoin works the same way, but in the digital realm.

Benefits for Society

If you believe your cousin might be interested in the greater societal benefits of Bitcoin, in addition to these practical benefits, then you can talk about the paradigm shift in economics and politics that cryptocurrencies introduce. Since Bitcoin is not controlled by any government, its money supply can’t be increased to fund politicians’ pet projects. If your cousin is anti-war, note that taking money creation out of government hands removes their ability to print money to fund another war (a common tactic of governments throughout history). If she is opposed to government social programs, explain that keeping control of the money supply out of government hands prevents funding the latest trendy social program. In any case, Bitcoin has the potential to radically change how governments and countries are run.

Be Honest

fall-163496_1280Of course, if you talk about Bitcoin long enough you will run into objections. It is important to acknowledge the current weaknesses of Bitcoin: few merchants accept it directly; obtaining bitcoins can still be cumbersome, and for now managing one’s bitcoins is beyond the technical abilities of your grandmother. But tell your cousin of Bitcoin’s similarities to other technologies, such as email or even the Internet. In the early to mid-90’s, these technologies were not yet mainstream and many scoffed at their potential. But over time the energy spent by entrepreneurs to make them more accessible paid off handsomely. Now Grandma sends emails, surfs the Internet, and posts baby pictures of you on Facebook. The same trajectory of user-friendliness is happening with Bitcoin today.

Finally, offer to help your cousin set up her Bitcoin wallet, and send her some bitcoins. Nothing gets someone more excited than free money! If you are patient and willing to answer even the simplest questions, before you know it your cousin will be a Bitcoin advocate like you.


Eric Sammons is the author of several books, including “Bitcoin Basics: 101 Questions and Answers.” He holds a degree in Systems Analysis with a concentration in Economics from Miami University in Ohio. He worked for more than 15 years in the software development field, including 10 years as the owner of his own software firm. He has been using Bitcoin since 2013 and looks forward to the day when he can close his bank account. He can be followed on Twitter @EricRSammons.


Image Source: Eric Sammons, kristian sekulic via Getty Images

  • Michael Dann

    In this case, mention the enormous costs involved in credit card fraud – over $32 billion last year, according to one study – and note that someone has to pick up that tab.

    Or you could be, you know, honest, and point out that the costs of fraud represent less than 1% of all transactions and the risk is distributed.

    Unlike bitcoin, where if you’re counterparty or an intermediary screws you you have precisely zero recourse, using a credit card you aren’t completely SOL.