Tutorial: The Mobile Phone and Human Values

Grinnell College
Fall 2012

Meeting times: TTh 8:00 - 9:50
Meeting place: SCI 3817 (Computer Science Commons)

Instructor: Janet Davis (Office hours as posted; contact me)

Writing mentor: Debbie Cifuentes-Ramirez (Office hours: above the Grill Thursday 10-noon, Thursday 1-2, Friday 11-noon; or email <cifuente@grinnell.edu> for an appointment)


About this course

Just twenty years ago, less than 1% of the world's population owned a mobile phone.  Today in the United States and many other nations, there are more mobile phones than there are people.  Why?  Mobile phones are increasingly powerful, relatively cheap, and above all convenient. For some, the mobile phone is an intimate device: it is with us all the time; it keeps us safe and connected; we are both figuratively and literally lost without it.  But what are the costs of being "always on"? Do mobile phones truly make us safer, or do they lead us into harm's way? Do mobile phones strengthen or weaken our social ties?  How do our mobile phones reflect and shape our identities?  Can we depend on our phones too much? In this tutorial, we will address questions such as these, questions which relate the mobile phone to enduring human concerns such as autonomy, efficiency, identity, ownership, privacy, safety, and well-being.  We'll consider a variety of perspectives, ranging from technology design and scientific experiments to social observations and humanist reflection. We will endeavor to make more informed and thoughtful choices both as citizens and in our everyday lives.

As the only required course in the Grinnell curriculum, First-Year Tutorial is unique. Like other Tutorials, this course will explore a topic of interest to all of us, but it has also been designed to help you adjust quickly and successfully to college-level academic work. By drawing on sources from multiple disciplines, the course introduces you to a wide range of methods of academic inquiry, the ways in which scholars in various disciplines have sourght to enlarge our knowledge. At the same time, the course will help you to polish skills that are crucial to success in college: finding and evaluating source materials, reading carefully and critically, exploring ideas through discussion, and presenting your ideas clearly and persuasively through writing and speaking. Because your tutor is also your academic advisor, we will work together in this course to make a plan for future semesters that will meet your individual needs while providing for a liberal education. And finally, this Tutorial will help you engage you with core practices of a liberal education as identified by Grinnell faculty:critical thinking, examination of life, encounters with difference, and free exchange of ideas.

By design, Tutorial is a special course. Smaller than most introductory courses, it provides a particularly good opportunity for you to participate actively and really get to know your classmates.  With only first-years in the class, it eliminates the pressure of having to compete with older students. By focusing on things you need to know for success at Grinnell, it can help you do well in other courses. Thus, the course is designed to be useful, cooperative, and enjoyable.


  1. To consider how the design and adoption of mobile phones relates to individual and societal values.
  2. To improve writing skills.
  3. To enter Grinnell's academic culture and develop your ability to learn through discussion.
  4. To improve other crucial academic skills, such as reading, oral presentation, and information literacy.
  5. To appreciate standards of honesty in academic work and to know the proper procedures for avoiding plagarism.
  6. To become comfortable with using the College's library and computer facilities for academic research.
  7. To develop supportive advising and peer relationships.
  8. To envision for oneself a four-year plan for a liberal education.


All of our textbooks are available through the Grinnell College Bookstore as well as through online booksellers.

Note that you will need They Say / I Say right away; we will start reading The Mobile Connection during the week of September 10; and we will work through Style after fall break.

Janet Davis (davisjan@cs.grinnell.edu)

Created August 21, 2012
Last revised September 11, 2012
With thanks to Kent McClelland