Toupix: What it really means (Part 1)

I have entitled this post Part 1 as it will no doubt be expanded with feedback and my critical theory of Toupix. I shall document the building of my presentation/argument through these posts.

Last night I presented Toupix at the iDAT mobile workshop for Plymouth Media Partnership (pm-p) members. I received lots of feedback, all of which I will use in the argument of my final presentation in May.

As Toupix is exposed to a wider audience (it is starting to propagate through the blogosphere), many people are leaving feedback and points of view on what is, potentially, a very intrusive technology. I thought, then, that I should clarify Toupix and its role as a research project. As well as summarising some of the ideas so far, I should like to outline why Toupix is what it is.

Toupix is not a commercial or saleable tool, in the same way as, say, Flickr or similar. It is a research project built as a critique to the emerging smart-mob culture. As we become evermore at-one with digital technologies – the Web in particular - and our lives shift to the digital domain, our connectivity to others becomes so infinite that we lose sight and control of how we are related, and the information we convey.

Clearly, within the smart-mob culture, the idea that we are passively so connected is intimidating, and can be extremely concerning. With infinite connectivity, privacy becomes impossible, perhaps a forgotten privilege. We allow ourselves to become completely (I avoid ‘virtually’) exposed through digital communication tools.

Toupix manifests this infinite, passive connectivity and forces one to consider the consequences of our near permanent-exposure, and indeed our ability to maintain control over information.

Feedback from last night’s show queried the privacy of people captured in Toupix’s photographic field. Legally, the permission of identifiable people in a photo must be sought in publishing that photo (e.g. from this explanation of model release) - it is a requirement of the Toupix Terms and Conditions that all applicable laws are adhered to, and that permissions are sought. Despite this, however, Toupix does raise concerns at just how exposed (whether directly or indirectly) we have become in the age of prosumerism. We are constantly subject to surveillance, and now sousveillance, by the endless array of (oft-tiny) camera lenses that surround us.

As well as the concerns of who might access our information (in Toupix’s case, photos) and how we might be indirectly exposed through our social space, another prevalent feedback was that of copyright and ownership. Again, referring to the terms of use, user’s must acknowledge that any photo taken with Toupix is published into the Public Domain, and that they relinquish all copyright to it. The publication of copyrighted works is also disallowed.

However, once again, it is with reference to this subject that Toupix raises important questions on the idea of protected information in our situation where it is so difficult to do so. Historically, there has been a lot of press with regards to copyright since the popularity of Napster (the first version) and other peer-2-peer file networks. In a situation where we expose our information so impetuously, and we are entwining it with our social connections (thus other people become part of it), how can we seek to control or ‘own’ that information?

For example, if 20 people take a photo using Toupix of the same event, they are all deemed part of that event and connected to the photo. Whilst the author of the photo is marked through the system as the author, with so many people attached to an event’s space, who is the owner of that space?

These are just a couple of the interesting points that have been raised so far. As more people explore Toupix (and our smart-mob culture in general), I hope that it will raise further questions and concerns.

This can, in my view, only be a good thing. To blindly accept and embrace technologies as they are developed for us - without stepping back to truly understand them and their effect on our societies – will be our undoing.

I would like to express my thanks to everyone so far who has taken the time to consider Toupix and leave, or send me, their response to it.