Date of Award

Spring 5-2021

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Joanna Levin, Ph.D., Chair

Second Advisor

Ian Barnard, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Justine Van Meter, Ph.D.


The aim of this thesis is to take a closer look at Jeremy Bentham’s eighteenth century prison, the Panopticon, in order to address how its structural makeup was not only intended to effectively surveil prisoners, but also how this very early model of surveillance has developed over time and has found its way into the digital sphere of our world. By closely examining Dave Eggers’ novel The Circle, specifically by tracing the character arc of the main character Mae, this dystopian novel will track how Mae’s evolving relationship with the digital sphere is much like society’s newfound relationship with digital surveillance models, such as our phones and social media. In part, these now interactive surveillance mechanisms are not only altering how Mae and society’s users interact with others, but the digital content that we view plays a part in shaping our online and personal identity as well. As Margaret Atwood states best in her review of The Circle, “When Privacy is Theft”:

Publication on social media is in part a performance, as is everything “social” that human beings do; but what happens when that brightly lit arena expands so much that there is no green room in which the mascara can be removed, no cluttered, imperfect back stage where we can be “ourselves”? What happens to us if we must be “on” all the time? Then we’re in the twenty-four-hour glare of the supervised prison. To live entirely in public is a form of solitary confinement. (Atwood 1)[1]

When characters like Mae and real life users are being conditioned by technology to think and act a certain way, the human aspect, in all its nuance and complexity, is in danger of being lost and the individual becomes trapped in a digital prison, always having to be on their best behavior, unsure as to whether they are being surveilled. Finally, with the support from Eggers’ novel and various outside sources, I will work to prove that this weapon that we call technology harms more than it hurts, and though it has valuable resources to offer, we must be conscious of its impeding dark side.

[1] Atwood, Margaret. “When Privacy is Theft”. The New York Review. New York, NY. 21 November 2013.

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