Fusion of Panoptic and Surveillance Control in Dystopian Novel The Circle

June 23, 2022 by Essay Writer

This essay will set out the dystopian novel of The Circle, which overtly deals with the aspect of the possible dangers of social media and surveillance. Set in the future, the story of Mae helps grasp the naivety of civilians which is then combined with an internet search and social media capabilities. The reader can follow Mae as she works her way up to the top, becoming more vigilant of the possibilities offered by the newly developed technology offered by the circle. But this also helps witness the protagonist’s degradation and the circle’s progressive movement towards totalitarianism. Emphasizing The Circles’ social media and panoptic surveillance. The circle shows how human technology has developed through the textual nature of literature and totalitarianism. Yet still, the novel uses a series of narrative strategies which makes the reader come to the realization of the dehumanization of social media and what the constant watchful eye of surveillance devices brings out. This concept of surveillance capitalism will be carefully examined in the way in which it causes implications within the circle and the totalitarian regime. Moreover, the circle helps address if the surveillance is panoptic (showing the whole at one given view) or synoptic surveillance and why people choose to accept the corrupt ideologies. However, that being said, the characters within The Circle gain more access to facts, figures, and streams of data in the hope that it will help them live better prosperous lives. Egger helps identify the need to take a critical stance towards technology, avoiding the temptations of being carried away by their given promises. The institutionalization of technology places special importance on being watched and the data capturing of citizens, all of which is needed to examine the nature and complication of the implicit logic of surveillance capitalism.

It is through the aspect of panopticism that it can help grasp the constant control within The Circle. Panopticism was introduced by Jeremy Bentham who made a “powerful impact on modern thought”. He put the idea forward that the “panopticon is nothing more than a ‘simple idea in architecture” and in contemporary society, as panoptical surveillance is supplemented by the synoptic which is found constantly within the circle. Egger used panopticism through the digital and realistic works of the circle. As the initial glance of the circles, the headquarters is filled with “offices everywhere…every wall made of glass”. Egger shows the replication of a fantasy funhouse- like a wall of mirrors, it also shows the elements of dreams that become a reality. No matter what direction Mae is going, she is faced with glass, a reflection of herself, simultaneously whilst being watched by the company. This form of surveillance shows the circles’ initial form of surveillance and control. Even so, the circles’ environment creates a paradoxical environment for the characters; being able to see all, as well as following an omniscient view coming from the circle. Yet, the glass shows that those in the circle are not free by transparency, but instead constantly trapped by themselves, workers, and the company. Therefore, any form of security is invoked by the glass as an illusion because they protect them from freedom and lock them under the total control of the company.

The lack of freedom comes from the engagement of the present and the future which has made technological advancements and thus offers a picture of what control under technology can look like. In hindsight, the social media created by the circle allows the characters to transcend any physical barriers which have narrowed them to small social life. As “all that happens should be known” leads to the set-up of cameras so that crime can be stopped but also freedom. As everyone in the circle is constantly being watched without having a choice to decide otherwise, similar to the rules of the 21st century. However, the ‘Exchange’ camera can be seen as revolutionary because they aim to heighten physical barriers allowing the civilians to access information which would have otherwise been confidential. The cameras continue to show that they are revolutionary by showing the lives of elected leaders, workers, holiday destinations, and life in general. However, this constant feeling of being watched is a common motif that runs through totalitarian regimes that are similarly found in the circle. Therefore, Eggers can present the readers with possible opportunities put forward by the circles’ social media team and surveillance, putting through the view that by prolonging limited human capabilities, technology can open up different avenues to improve living and security. Thus, “surveillance society helps to indicate the broader context within which the unsettling discoveries about the mass surveillance”, going from social media to local space stations following every footprint. Constantly being under the watchful eye of a lens is unsettling because where that information goes is not up to the victim but the capitalist. The control coming from the capital is found in The Origins of Totalitarianism which sets out how capital control is inevitable as the constant “accumulation of power, makes the foundation of new…bodies” shows the never-ending control of totalitarianism as well as arguing a constant battle of revolutionizing movements, much of which egger is portraying through the technological advancement however this what creates the downfall of the characters and allows them to push for more “power”.

The second wave of panopticism and surveillance is in the digital world of the circle. The surveillance goes beyond digital, instead, more technologies allow the conflation of digital and physical surveillance. The cameras are “manipulated manually” and constantly empathized to be very “small the army can’t find them”, everyone in the circle is aware that they are constantly being watched, thus they are monitoring one another through the eyes of their peers as well as monitoring themselves. However, the cameras still create a significant issue that the surveillance is intruding; as well as, the paradigm of the screen. Ultimately, the workers use multiple screens to carry out all levels of control. Yet Mae especially has been given the information that to succeed, she must rely upon multiple screens to uphold levels of surveillance. However, this is misleading information and has moved away from their mirrored offices and into another virtual restriction. All of which Mae is constantly being surrounded by glass and being constantly controlled by an omniscient leader at the top of the circle.

The constant level of surveillance is inescapable, as the software ‘LuvLuv’, takes on a disturbance of privacy. As characters such as Francis take advantage of Mae and use her life as a weakness as he can see through “TruYou…what she ordered last time she ate there”. The naivety and blindness of Mae to the transgression of ‘LuvLuv’ neglects any forms of ethical and immoral implications. Consequently, the constant level of surveillance results in a shift in the way in which the characters are viewed. Instead of being seen as human, Mae is immediately put under the telescope and seen as an algorithm, with no emotion or feelings. This robotic feature on humans is denied by Dan as he persists that they are not “automatons…we’re a group of the best minds of our generations”, it is clear from his mention of the ‘mind’ he has dissembled them from their bodies and dislikes anything beyond which have been documented. This raises concerns about transhumanism within the novel, as many characters are dismissive of the human nature of the workers and the world around them.

Further, to this notion of psychically being controlled, it is seen in Mae’s capability to do “something she knew in her bones” suggesting she is highly reliant on technology for the company and herself. Whereas, now it has started to penetrate the rest of her body and into her “bones” which is unsettling because it suggests the technological surveillance could eventually kill her. The giving of Mae’s body can be seen from the first day she joins the circle, as she is festooned with many technology types. This leads to the disturbing level of surveillance in which Mae consumes a chip, whereas she is reassured that “it’s the best way… you don’t notice, and it’s over” it shows the extreme measures humans take to collect data for the watchful eye of surveillance. Therefore, the chips serve to aggravate the control from before as well as imploring the panoptical sense of putting oneself under surveillance and being monitored by others.

Thus, it can be concluded that Mae is in a revolutionized panopticism as there is still a distinction to be made concerning the surveillance and control within society. Egger helps condemn the dehumanization that technology such as the chip brings about. Therefore, by portraying a world in which human-enhancing technology takes any freedom allows many to neglect real life and the physicality of life, which is a common error of the contemporary world. It is why the circle stresses a critical view of technology and how damaging it can be. More specifically, the circle helps underscore the importance of human reality as well as the option to leave a world of fantasy that is based on manmade technology and not the given life of nature.


  1. Arendt, H. (1951). The Origins of Totalitarianism. 1st ed. San Diego: Schocken Books.
  2. Bentham, J. (2011). The Panopticon writings. London: Verso.
  3. Eggers, D. (2013). The circle. 1st ed. Alfred A. Knopf.
  4. Lyon, D. (2011). Theorizing surveillance. London: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.


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