I Went to SXSW on Bitcoin and All I Got Was This T-shirt (and Some Tacos)

Fidel Martinez

A week and a half ago, on this very site, I expressed that I was going to be attending the 2014 edition of the South by Southwest Interactive conference and only pay for things using Bitcoin, the cryptocurrency that everyone loves to hate and so few people actually understand. My intended mission was to “find out what’s currently possible with what many consider the money of the future.” This self-imposed challenge—financed by Fusion (thanks, travel per diems!)—would put to the test whether it’s possible to survive solely on Bitcoin.

Spoiler alert: I was successful. Like, stupidly successful. It turns out that Austin, Texas is as technologically forward thinking as advertised. Finding sustenance in the Live Music Capital of the World and paying for it with Bitcoin was as easy as walking two blocks south of the Austin Convention Center, the central hub of the festival. I found not one, but two establishments more than happy to exchange their delicious goods for my magical Internet money.

In hindsight, it’s kind of surprising that more businesses haven’t adopted Bitcoin given the minimal cost it takes to set it up as a payment method and, most importantly, the cryptocurrency’s penchant to increase in value. After all, a dollar will always be worth a dollar, but a dollar’s worth of Bitcoin has the potential to be worth more (or less!).

With my plan largely shot down, I decided to shift my focus and try to learn more about the Bitcoin community. The biggest takeaway? It’s not as homogenous as I thought.

The stereotype of a Bitcoin user is nerdy, white, and male. That type of person certainly plays a prominent role in the community, but there is diversity. A great example of this is Cryptowomen Worldwide, an organization that aims at educating women about cryptocurrencies and how to best take advantage of them professionally.

There’s also the Libertarians, advocates of freedom and liberty in all shapes and forms. No one we met is more representative of this group than Michael Cargill, owner of Central Texas Gunworks. Cargill’s gun store not only accepts Bitcoin as payment, but it’s also one of two places in the city that has a Bitcoin ATM. (It’s also where I purchased the kickass—and factually correct—t-shirt you see above.)

“I think that people that are using Bitcoin are aligned with liberty,” he told me. “This is about financial independence. It’s about financial liberty. This is about a banking system
that’s too big to fail and getting away from that.”

So, what does your typical Bitcoiner looks like? It depends on who you’re looking for. They vary in race and gender and background. They also use them differently. The association to Silk Road is a harsh but fair one, but for every person who anonymously bought drugs, there’s one donating money to feed the homeless in Pensacola, Florida. The one quality they all share is a belief in a new technology that has shown that it’s here to stay for some time.

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