The Internet in terms of Panopticism

As a novel based around the events of September 11, 2001, Bleeding edge shows, through a fictional story, how everyday life went in the city before the attack. This was, of course, before measures of ensuring security were as strict as they are now (e.g. airline TSA). Throughout the novel, the overarching theme of the Deep Web and the fictional program DeepArcher, made to aid in traversing the Deep Web in the most secure environment possible, rear their heads, showing that there are still ways of avoiding authority and a governing body. In this way, Bleeding Edge and its themes can be compared to Foucault’s idea of the Panopticon, and even Deleuze’s Postscript on Control Societies.

The Deep Web, as by now we all should know, is affectionately known as the “Dark Side of the Internet,” and for good reason. Among other illicit activities, the ne’er-do-wells who inhabit this architecture are able to sell drugs, purchase illegal weapons, and even hire assassins, with the help of the anonymous Bitcoin. This level of anonymity leaves the average Internet user in the dark, and comes across as a shady activity, even if the user does not know about the specifics of the Deep Web.
Early on in the novel, Maxine is introduced to DeepArcher, and it is brought to her attention that most of “the visuals that [she thinks] she is seeing are being contributed by users all over the world. All for free. Hacker Ethic. Each one doing their piece of it, then just vanishing uncredited. Adding to the veils of illusion” (Pynchon 69).

The Panopticon is what I would mainly like to focus on here, namely in the way it is theorized to work. Foucault describes explicitly “the major effect of the Panopticon: to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power” (201) This idea is not fiction, but a theory, or even fact. People have proven themselves to work more diligently and to obey social customs when under the self-induced psychological influence of the mere concept of being observed. When the eyes are lifted, the accepted customs are dropped in favor of what pleases the individual. Such is the Deep Web compared to the Internet. The Internet, the safe (generally speaking) cozy abode of such sites that can connect one with friends and sites that can aid in research, among others, is an embodiment of the Panopticon. We know generally that the Internet is a public object, and that it is easy to find and watch the habits of another through the standard Internet’s set of websites. The Deep Web, however, is anonymous to a fault. The aforementioned eyes are lifted, and the users begin their descent to madness. Or rather, they are inclined and attracted to illicit activities that normally would be frowned upon near the “surface.”

In the same way, the novel’s portrayal of the Deep Web’s anonymity, coupled with the ideas on human behavior in such situations as I had mentioned above, the novel’s Deep Web theme can be related in part to Deleuze’s Postscript. He summarizes his thoughts on what control has become synonymous with in our society (schools, hospitals, prisons, etc.). This, I believe, is another way of showing our society’s focus on our social customs, and what is accepted to be the norm. Within a group such as a school or hospital, there is a series of behaviors which must be upheld in order to maintain a healthy symbiosis with what end the group is trying to achieve (e.g. in a school, one must study, do homework, and obey the teacher [the behaviors] in order to graduate [the end result, the achievement]).


Pynchon, Thomas. Bleeding Edge. New York: Penguin, 2013. Print.

Deleuze, Gilles. “Postscript on Control Societies.” Negotiations, 1972-1990. Trans. Martin Joughin. New York: Columbia UP, 1995. 177-82. Print.

Foucault, Michel. “Panopticism.” Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Trans. Alan Sheridan. New York: Vintage, 1977. 195-228. Print.

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4 Responses to The Internet in terms of Panopticism

  1. newtonscradle7 says:

    I agree that now especially with social media, people have somewhat of a filter on what they post. They do not necessarily need to think they are always being watched, but still, people follow under our social customs and order. In terms of the deep web though, people are able to go about their business with the inclination that they are completely anonymous and can get away with just about anything. There is no threat of them being watched, they can act however they would like and remain unseen, in theory.


  2. bagelbite13 says:

    I am curious about your description of the surface web as the Panopticon. While I do agree that postings on social media and the like tend to evoke a Panopticon-like feeling of judgement, I don’t necessarily think the internet as a whole is Panopticon-like. Many people go to the internet because there is this shroud of secrecy. There is also a sense of free will with regard to the internet in that people will post things on the internet that aren’t necessarily socially appropriate, i.e. they would never say those things in public conversation.


  3. burgleyourturts says:

    The Panopticon is a structure set in place to achieve a state of self-governing among the subjects. I do not quite agree with your statement that the internet is the embodiment of the Panopticon. The fact that I am able to write this comment on your post without anyone knowing my real identity takes away from the power of what you suggested to be a Panopticon. People generally are more comfortable stating their opinions or doing outlandish things under the protection of anonymity that they would otherwise not do. So in my mind, the internet as a Panopticon does not really make sense to me because people tend to act however they want without having to worry about some greater power watching over them.
    (P.S. When reading your post, the “on the internet nobody knows your a dog” meme came to my mind. Sadly can’t post picture in comments)


  4. rivaiheichou says:

    @bagelbite13 @burgleyourturts You both seem to agree that the Internet has a strong sense of privacy, but it is something worth noting that you both follow the accepted behavior by maintaining a certain level of respect. It is something to think about; we have no idea who the others are, yet we all give mutual respect and seemingly try to maintain an acceptable social presence, regardless of our “anonymity.” Our posts are still available to the public. Thus, the Panopticon reference.


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