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“Most of us now have to consider ourselves digitally”

Emily Bitze (Canada) is  Founder of Bunz, an app where people trade and shop locally.

Shane Saunderson: How do you define Bunz in terms of the sharing economy movement?

Emily Blitz: Bunz is a digital community that facilitates and encourages in person meet ups for the purpose of exchanging of items one no longer wants to acquire something they need. Objects and services are used as an alternative to currency.

Shane: What was your intention in founding Bunz, vis-a- vis the creation of a community, digital or otherwise?

EB: My intention was to find a way to acquire things I needed without having to spend money. It was also my intention to reduce the amount of items that people considered throwing out and ultimately ending up in our landfills. The purpose of the Bunz App was to help legitimize the trading economy, help facilitate exchanges and encourage reuse and recycle behaviour while creating community in the city. Bunz is as much about connecting people as it is about exchanging goods.

Shane: What choices have sharing platforms such as Bunz enabled for digital communities that might have been impossible otherwise without certain technologies?

EB: It’s helped give people a choice when throwing something away. That they could get something in return for it. Being a digital platform we could allow individuals to choose who they want to meet up judging by the person’s profile and reviews. They can also choose to give feedback and be held accountable for their behaviour as well. In analogue communities, you can’t rate your interaction with somebody. It also gives Bunz as a company the choice to introduce new ideas that don’t exist yet with the technology we build.

Shane: Why are these choices important and what has Bunz brought to people’s lives?

EB: These choices are important because people need to know they have alternatives. Most of the sharing platforms are all looking for ways to help people get what they need in a non traditional way. From a community standpoint it’s important for people to feel like they belong to something, have a support system. In a time when so much value is put on a person’s digital presence Bunz has brought meaningful in person interactions to people who may not have always been open to meeting a stranger.

Shane: What choices have the sharing economy potentially taken away, or do analogue communities have that may not be available in digital communities?

EB: With a lot of digital sharing platforms there is a focus on efficiency, everything faster, easier, better. So in those cases it can eliminate the choice to actually engage with somebody. In digital communities that don’t include an in person encounter there can often be a lack of accountability and commitment. As the internet becomes a more integral part of our lives it can also remove choices for people who don’t want to engage digitally and have to conform somehow to get the things they need or want. Most of us now have to consider ourselves digitally and that can change the way we understand ourselves and our interactions with others. analogue communities give people a sense of realness that is not present digitally.

Shane: How might future technological developments and the evolution of digital communities change the aforementioned choices and restrictions?

EB: Technology can empower communities by connecting people in new and meaningful ways – a very current example of this is what’s happening with cryptocurrencies and decentralization. There are so many ways new technology can change how we connect with each other. In the case of decentralization and crypto currencies, the technology can be used to dis-intermediate large monopolies that profit from communities and pass that benefit back to the people who use the system – that’s a powerful idea which can benefit everyone and would be inline with the ethos of Bunz, but it’s just one example of many. My opinion is that it’s prudent that as we leverage new technologies, we ensure that we look past profit to benefiting everyone – it starts to really become about something bigger, it has to be about coming together as people to make positive change.

Shane: Do you believe that the sharing economy and digital communities in general encourage the development of a pluralistic society?
EB: I think that it does and can encourage more tolerance and diversity by allowing any individual to exchange ideas and different perspectives. However, the real engagement and commitment to learning is not always acted upon in a strictly digital community and can often breed hostility and a lack of accountability. This also depends on the intention of the platform (or corporation) that offers the service.

Overall, I do think the sharing economy encourages pluralism as it generally involves a peer to peer interaction. Two people who may not have ever met and come from different backgrounds/life experiences have the opportunity to offer knowledge and take knowledge from that encounter and it has a greater potential for it to be genuine because it’s based in reality. People in general can become naturally more committed to these types of relationships and encounters and diversity as they become more accustomed to engaging in digital communities and peer to peer meetups.

Shane: In your opinion, will there always be a place in people’s lives for purely analogue communities and how will the interplay between digital and analogue communities impact their choices in life?

EB: I think there will always be a place for purely analogue communities and who knows, maybe more people will crave it in the future, but I think engaging digitally will become more and more inevitable in many aspects of one’s life. I think that the interplay between the two communities can equally give and take away choices for people. As mentioned before I think this will depend on the intentions of the platforms and communities involved.