- If you can’t stand people talking about crypto, you’re not alone.
- The “crypto bro” stereotype can keep people from learning more about technology.
- We tend to withdraw from unfamiliar concepts, especially when pushed in our face.
You know the guy. He wears a Moncler vest, is always on the phone and has strong opinions about which NFTs to buy.
He also wants to tell you how much money he made with his latest cryptocurrency investment and how it all works.
Known as the “crypto bro,” this persona has multiplied over the past two years, as the skyrocketing value of digital currencies has tipped them from fringe investment to pop culture touchstones. † The crypto brother has become part of the cultural lexicon and has earned a GQ profile and hashtags Twitter and TikTok.
The stereotype is the result of the advent of crypto as The Next Big Thing. Advertisements for this year’s Super Bowl have led some to call it the Crypto Bowl. NBC alumni the single person dive into NFT influence. The mayors of Miami and New York are trying to rebrand their cities as crypto hubs – New York’s Eric Adams even takes his first three paychecks in crypto. Last month, people like Bill Clinton and Tom Brady gathered in the Bahamas to discuss “Web 3.0,” a collection of online services powered by blockchain technology dubbed the “next phase” of the Internet.
The hype left some breathless. Rebecca Jennings of Vox described a lecture hosted by Gary Vaynerchuk and devoted to NFTs as “the most unpleasant event I have ever attended”. There is an entire Reddit thread devoted to why crypto investors are “the dullest”. And as one person recently tweeted“God, I hate crypto so much.”
Sasha Mutchnik, a 25-year-old who posts subculture memes on the popular Instagram account @starterpacksofNYC, compared the “crypto bro” to New York’s “finance guys” — think of the much-maligned Chad and Brad in their Patagonia vests. They’re also part of ‘tech bro’, the character in the hoodie and sneakers mocked by HBO silicone valley†
“Touched by a combination of money and hype,” Mutchnik told me, the crypto guy is “so drunk with the success of this thing that no one (except him and his comrades who arrived early) doesn’t really understand that’s all he wants to talk.”
Mutchnik thinks that’s a shame, given the many companies working to make crypto platforms and technology relevant and useful in everyday life.
“The technology itself, and the majority of those who use it, are not stupid, rude or obnoxious,” she said. “Love boring language and endless spin-offs and ambiguous minimalist logos, that’s about it.”
But there is something deeper than annoyance in the popular disregard for crypto. It’s a foreign concept to many, with confusing technical jargon and an ethos of a Matrix-esque future in which even more of our lives are online – at a time when many people crave IRL interactions after two years of pandemic. When faced with such a misunderstanding, we recoil and even push back when it is pushed in our face.
Crypto is like a weight loss drug
Celebrities of all levels, from Matt Damon and Gen Z influencer Charlie D’Amelio to Gwyneth Paltrow and Justin Bieber, have partnered with brands like Crypto.com or crypto app Gemini to promote emerging currencies.
Reese Witherspoon tweeted in January: “In the (near) future, everyone will have a parallel digital identity. Avatars, crypto wallets, digital assets will be the norm. Do you foresee this?”
Jonah Berger, professor of marketing at Wharton, explains why this aggressive conversation might not be for everyone.
“People feel like they’re being thrown,” Berger told me. “In some ways it feels a bit like a
drugs, which also makes it feel a bit like a scam. Why are so many people trying so hard? Maybe it’s because it’s not real.”
This is a red flag after celebrity-approved scams in recent years, such as Fyre Fest, Theranos, and the Anna Delvey Foundation. In addition, the crypto world itself has faced major losses and scams: the developers of a popular NFT game lost $600 million in user investment due to a security breach, and a coin “squid game” has risen in value amid of the popularity of a
show of the same name, before it disappears from the internet.
It doesn’t help that Kim Kardashian and Floyd Mayweather are both facing a lawsuit alleging that their crypto promotions were designed to increase the price of their own tokens to make money “at the expense of their subscribers and investors”. † †
We’re even more skeptical when something we find suspicious seems to be popping up everywhere. Berger has spent ten years studying consumer behavior. In his most recent book, “The Catalyst: How to Change Everyone’s Mind,” he explores how people push back when they feel pressured, a concept known as “reactance.”
We feel it when we ignore spam in our inboxes, junk email, or annoying TV commercial. It’s also one of the reasons why some people are so resistant to crypto, when you see it everywhere from Witherspoon’s Twitter to “The Tonight Show” where Jimmy Fallon and Paris Hilton compared their NFT purchases.
“People don’t like to be sold for something,” Berger said. “If they feel like someone is trying to convince them, their anti-persuasion radar goes off.”
Crypto scares us
Talking about bitcoin and ether raises a different kind of alarm: fear of the unknown.
Most Americans know the basics of how money works from a young age. Paper bills and coins are tangible and easy to see when exchanged for goods. The concept of a digital currency can be harder to grasp, and it’s daunting, like you have to be tech savvy to figure it out, 19-year-old cryptocurrency influencer Miss Teen Crypto told me.
“In reality, every day we use technology that we don’t really understand, like using a debit card — we don’t know the technicalities of the transaction, but we know it works,” he said. “It will be the same with cryptocurrency sooner or later.”
Not everyone agrees, and it has nothing to do with the crypto sibling. Crypto markets themselves have been in turmoil of late, with the price of bitcoin falling more than 50% from its high in late 2021. “As an emerging asset class, the relatively high level of
could give some pause,” David Lawant, director of research at BitWise Asset Management, told me.
In addition, a lack of regulation, environmental concerns about the amount of electricity needed, and disagreements over the value of digital currencies have raised legitimate concerns about crypto’s future as a valid financial tool. Warren Buffet even said he wouldn’t buy “all the bitcoin in the world” for $25.
Whatever the reasons, shyness breeds fear. As Carla Marie Manly, psychologist and author of the book Joy From Fear, explained to me, it’s an evolutionary response from our caveman days, when humans learned to be suspicious and prefer situations that feel familiar and safe. Most have low risk tolerance, especially when it comes to their health, safety or finances, she said.
“Those who find crypto culture completely alien will likely feel overwhelmed and intimidated,” she said.
Some of us may feel closer to our caveman days than to a world where NFTs, dogecoin and Coinbase reign supreme. The names and the opacity of their meanings indicate a shift towards a more futuristic society.
“Consciously and unconsciously, they would worry about what future changes would bring,” Manly said.
Blame the crypto
On the other hand, according to Manly, there is another category of people who are enthusiastic about the knowledge they have about crypto, especially if they are in the minority.
“Those who understand this area are likely to feel very comfortable and largely unintimidated; their sense of competence will often outweigh any feelings of intimidation and insecurity,” she said.
This group, as Lawant put it, “created their own stories, stories, memes and other social norms.” It can feel alienating or even threatening to some who don’t share their values, he added.
This is consistent with Berger’s research, which found that social influence can cause us to do the same — or the opposite — of others, depending on how we perceive their identities relative to ours.
“People like to do things that people like them do, and they tend to avoid things that other people who aren’t like them do,” he said.
Part of this involves deliberately avoiding a popular trend because some people like to show you’re against it. “Some people who use crypto have a certain identity that other people may not necessarily want to associate with,” Berger said.
He says those people might think, ‘That’s not for me. Even if it has status for some people, not for me.”
That’s because investing in — and talking about — crypto suggests you’re a certain type of person.
“He’s a different kind of guy than the Silicon Valley tech bro,” said Mutchnik, the founder of @starterpacksofNYC. This guy probably isn’t wearing AllBirds or a Patagonia vest. He might be wearing a Moncler vest or a pair of exorbitantly priced sneakers. There’s kind of a need (or at least a desire) to be seen as hip or hip by these guys. †
But the crypto man is a stereotype just like any other. As Mutchnik points out, not all crypto enthusiasts are guys — there’s a push for the crypto fraternity. Not all crypto enthusiasts talk endlessly about bitcoin either, and many are trying to make crypto more accessible to those outside the stereotypical “crypto bro” crowd. Co-founded by 37-year-old Deana Burke and 29-year-old Natasha Hoskins, Boys Club aims to welcome women and non-binary people into the crypto space. Another group, Women in NFTs, as the name suggests, also wants to open crypto to women.
But the fact that the stereotype exists is enough to put people off. As Mutchnik put it, “Crypto isn’t all bad, it’s just badly marketed.”