Grandma Bitcoin: Is this the oldest woman in the world to use digital currency?

Tuesday 17 December 2013

We have heard the stories of the world’s young bitcoin entrepreneurs, but with bitcoin often described as a Gen Y phenomenon it is perhaps most surprising to learn of someone in their eighties, who has been completely converted to using digital currency.

Bitcoin Slippers:

At the age of 86, Maria Zydzik was born and raised in Zarnowa, Poland during the Second World War and immigrated to Canada in 1969. She has been creating handmade, traditional Polish slippers for decades, via but more recently has started selling them for bitcoin.

Where Maria challenges all the preconceptions of bitcoin being overly complex and too difficult for the average person to understand is with the fact she accepts bitcoin and only bitcoin because she has found it simpler, and cheaper to use, than credit cards

“I did not understand other methods of payment because they were too complicated, and I could not implement them on my website,” Maria says, adding, “This new bitcoin technology is just as a easy to use as Facebook.”

Maria’s first exposure to the Internet was via Facebook after her grandsons introduced her to the site, which allowed her to connect with family back in Poland. “The site allowed me to explore virtual communities and I could learn about anything,” she says. It was through following a link to “something called bitcoin,” that she discovered digital currency. “I was intrigued by the concept and started to learn more about it. The more I learned the more I knew that it would change the world.”

Bitcoin has certainly changed her world as she knew it, opening up opportunities for her to expand her audience, sell her creations globally and, as she says, bitcoin also put her in touch with “a supportive community in my time of need.”

It is a member of the bitcoin community, and one of her recent customers, who coined the phrase Grandma Bitcoin. Maria loved the name and instantly adopted it, even started blogging about it and set it up as her twitter handle.

Although she describes herself as “not tech-savvy”, bitcoin has not only given her opportunities for her small business but has opened up the digital world and seen her become an active part of it.

Grandma Bitcoin is an apt name for someone who, as far as she is aware, is the oldest person in the world to transact with bitcoin. It is also her grandsons who are “just as excited” about alternative currencies as she is. Andrew and Arthur Labenek even presented a paper at the May 2013 conference in San Jose: "Thinking through Bitcoin in the Information Age Revolution: Piracy, Security, and e-Business"  and Maria says, “together we share the same love for bitcoin.”

Other members of her family were slower to appreciate bitcoin in the same way. “My immediately family did not understand bitcoin, nor were they willing to associate themselves with anything technological,” she says. “The reactions were mostly negative but with research and thinking about how bitcoin can help people buy, trade, and sell goods my family eventually saw it as a transformative technology.”

It is a huge step from where she began, as a young girl in Poland. “There was no money, stores, or banks. We had nothing, so my family had to make our own clothes and grow our own food to survive,” she says. But it is her background and childhood experiences, growing up during World War II, that have helped shape her belief in bitcoin. On her blog, she refers to the day Russian soldiers marched into her school to shut it down and the time the Nazis took all her father’s gold that he had worked for his entire life.

“I was reading a tweet about how Bitcoin is the biggest revolution of the Internet. And in my 86 years, it is indeed the biggest revolution I have seen in my entire life. Think about it: couldn’t wars be diverted, corruption abolished and a more just financial ecosystem developed just by using Bitcoin? Would the soldiers take over my school if they knew there was nothing that could be seized? Would my father still lose his hard earned “money” at the Germany border while trying to go to Canada and start a new life? I think not.”

- Maria Zydzik, Bapka's Fashion blog

As a woman who experienced wartime living, she has witnessed the changing state of nations and their economies. “Now we have an enormous amount of wealth in the form of credit and debt,” says Maria. “People buy the things they desire now but will all pay for it in the future with higher inflation rates. The ma and pa businesses are dying out and losing out to bigger corporations that pay people low wages.”

For Maria, bitcoin represents an opportunity for fundamental change and could pave the way toward a better society. “Bitcoin has already changed the world by questioning what money means,” she says. “It gives the normal person the opportunity to bring their creativity to the center stage and share it with the world… Bitcoin has a chance to bring creativity back into the market place by leveling the playing field.” She adds, “Bitcoin allows you to have total control over your finances. Since half of the world does not have access to a bank account, bitcoin allows for a global economy no matter where you are. It does not discriminate.”

Maria’s passion for bitcoin is evident as is her excitement about its future prospects.

“This new money system is like being on a different planet because you can deal with the whole world in a second and share your ideas with one another. Bitcoin is not only a currency but a philosophy and technology.” 

In contrast to her newfound enthusiasm for a new age digital currency, Maria still cherishes the traditional elements of her heritage. The make and mend, thrift culture now takes bitcoins, an indication that this is not just a currency for the Internet geeks and technophiles.

Her slippers take two days to make by hand from morning to night. “I learned how to make them from a very early age, except that I did not have the yarn that I have here,” she explains. “I first made them from konopie, where I soaked them for two weeks in water, and then the shell would open and dry out. It was then combed and turned into a hair-like material and this was used to make all of my clothes because there were no stores, so you had to make your own. Everything was made from this material. It was durable, warm and would never tear.”

Slippers for Bitcoin:

Grandma Bitcoin hopes her story will encourage others of her generation to get involved with bitcoin, which is predominantly viewed as something for “the younger crowd.”

“I am confident that my story will be an inspiration to others who will follow in my footsteps and begin to play with this new technology,” she says.

Don’t be fooled into thinking this Grandma is just an elderly lady who sits and knits, telling tales of the "old days" (and she has plenty of those.) This is a tech-savvy Granny who proves sometimes, Grandma really does know best.

By Louise Goss

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