Why Do People Hate NFTs? The Psychology Behind the Backlash

published on 12 November 2023

Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) exploded into mainstream consciousness in 2021 as crypto-artworks like Beeple's "Everydays" sold for over $69 million at auction houses like Christie's. But alongside this mania also came a swelling wave of criticism and backlash. Many folks dismiss NFTs as overhyped jpegs or express confusion over their value. This article explores the key psychological factors behind the widespread negativity toward NFTs.

Perceived Lack of Inherent Value

A major source of NFT skepticism stems from the perception that they lack inherent value. To critics, NFTs seem like absurdly overpriced images or media that can be easily copied or screenshotted. It's difficult for some audiences to comprehend why an NFT of the "Overly Attached Girlfriend" meme sold for $411,000 when the image itself is ubiquitous across the internet.

Unlike physical artworks, NFTs don't provide tangible ownership of a canvas, sculpture, or object. This immaterial nature makes the value proposition challenging to accept for some. Additionally, multimillion-dollar prices for crypto-art seem arbitrary and driven by hype rather than fundamentals.

Subjective vs. Objective Value

However, the subjective value of art has always been tricky to quantify through objective measures. Renaissance paintings by Old Masters often sell for tens of millions based on nuanced factors like provenance and significance in art history. NFT values also derive from cultural appreciation, community affiliation, and origin stories.

The traditional art world frequently appears opaque and speculative to outsiders as well. Much NFT criticism seems selectively applied relative to how the broader fine art industry functions. As crypto-art builds culture and history, its subjectivity may become better understood.

Lack of Connection to Physical World

Part of the resistance also stems from the intrinsically digital nature of NFTs. Owning an NFT is a purely online experience, with no physical artwork to connect to. This ethereal form of ownership feels fuzzy and alien to some audiences.

Platforms like Unicorn provide features to link NFTs to real-world assets like merchandise and event access. These bridges between the digital and physical help ground NFTs in reality.

Environmental Concerns

Another major source of criticism is the environmental impact of NFTs minted on proof-of-work blockchains like Ethereum. The computational power required for crypto mining and transactions is energy intensive. To many, this seems extraordinarily wasteful.

By some estimates, a single Ethereum transaction can have a carbon footprint around 35 kWh, equal to the monthly power consumption of an average EU resident. These sobering statistics make NFTs unpalatable to eco-conscious critics.

Energy Usage vs. Traditional Systems

However, comparing blockchain's emissions to traditional systems can provide perspective. The carbon cost of printing, packaging, and distributing physical media and merchandise at scale is also massive.

The legacy financial system requires giant server farms and banking infrastructure to operate. By decentralizing transactions, blockchains can curtail some of this wasted energy.

The environmental impact merits concern but also nuance regarding tradeoffs.

Developing Greener Solutions

The blockchain ecosystem is shifting toward solutions that slash ecological impact. Ethereum's upcoming proof-of-stake migration will cut energy usage by ~99.95% by eliminating mining.

Using layer 2 networks like Polygon sidesteps Ethereum's high costs, with gas fees near 1/100th of a cent and 2 million+ daily transactions. Unicorn Platform's foundation on Polygon exemplifies integrating sustainability.

As the underlying technology evolves, NFTs are decoupling from the negative environmental perceptions of early blockchain protocols.

Associations with Hype and Scams

The speculative mania surrounding 2021's NFT boom also contributed to backlash. As prices skyrocketed, NFTs became associated with get-rich-quick schemes and empty hype. Critics saw echoes of the abstract modern art world's penchant for money laundering and tax evasion.

Publicized stories of fraud, stolen art, wash trading, and other crypto scams compounded this distrust. The legal gray areas around digital ownership raised concerns as well.

Platforms like Unicorn perform rigorous checks on creators and collections before listing them. Strict know-your-customer (KYC) protocols provide accountability and prevent fraud.

As the space professionalizes, developing norms and practices that deter misconduct will restore trust in NFTs.

Healthy Skepticism vs. Dismissal

Maintaining healthy skepticism without reflexive dismissal is crucial as emerging tech evolves. While prudent to question hype cycles, writing off innovations altogether risks short-sightedness.

With diligent work on underlying technology, sustainability, and ethical practices, NFTs can realize their potential as a tool for digital ownership and creativity.

Web3 Cultural Clash

On a deeper level, NFT negativity stems from colliding worldviews between web2 and web3 cultures. Many critics see NFTs as hyper-capitalist schemes to enrich speculators by wasting energy on hypothetical value. This opposes the decentralization ethos of web3.

Meanwhile, supporters view NFTs as expanding digital property rights, creativity, and economic opportunity. Reconciling these clashing perspectives around value and technology proves challenging.

Clash of Values

To critics, NFTs prioritize profit-seeking and speculation over physical property rights, egalitarian values, and eco-awareness. The decentralized web3 focus often conflicts with traditional web2 ideals.

But dismissing emerging paradigms prevents earnest exploration on their own terms. We must seek to understand web3 philosophies rather than reflexively judging them by legacy standards.

With education and cultural translation, these competing worldviews can find common ground.

The Road Ahead

As a very young technology, early-stage growing pains are inevitable as solutions develop. But knee-jerk NFT cynicism may prove shortsighted in hindsight.

Wider adoption requires strategically building bridges between the web2 and web3 cohorts. Synthesizing these worlds is key to translating NFTs' potential into human benefit rather than siloed financialization.

Balanced web3 analysis helps elucidate these cultural frontiers. Unicorn Platform guides startups in navigating this new terrain.


The backlash against NFTs stems from varying factors. Perceived value disparities, environmental impacts, associations with hype, and clashing web3 ideology all play roles.

But thoughtful examination reveals nuances beneath the polarization. As solutions emerge around technology, sustainability, and cultural understanding, NFTs can constructively evolve beyond the early-stage controversy.

With diligent work, NFTs can become more than speculative hype - instead serving as an engine for digital ownership, creativity, and expanded economic opportunity. Unicorn Platform aims to help startups capitalize on NFTs' possibilities while avoiding the pitfalls.

Curious to learn more? Check out Unicorn Platform's NFT features tailored for startups and creators.

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