The 22nd annual Day of Common Learning

Dr. Kate Ott gave the keynote address on the topic of “Digital Discernment: Navigating Life, Faith, and Technology.”

“There are three ways that folks usually respond to digital technology,” Kate Ott said in her keynote address at Seattle Pacific’s 22nd annual Day of Common Learning.

“The first is to instrumentalize digital technology. It’s just a tool. We can all control it. This version assumes that humans have all the agency and that technology has not shifted who or how we are in the world,” said Ott, who is a Christian ethicist, author, and professor at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary.  

On the other end of the spectrum, Ott said the second response is to feel deep fear of or awe for digital technology. Some ascribe infinite power to technology and believe it is outside of our control, but this response “denies any human relational impact of technology,” Ott told the audience of SPU students, faculty, and staff.

The third approach, which Ott advocates, sees people and technology as co-constitutive. “We don’t totally control it, but it’s also not beyond our power,” Ott said.

Instead of a list of do’s and don’ts — avoid this app, turn off technology for 24 hours every month — that become irrelevant as technology shifts, Ott believes people need to evaluate technology with a values-based approach. “If we say we are made in the image of God…that should tell us that we cannot use, abuse, or objectify people via social media,” Ott said.

In Ott’s concluding remarks, she invited the audience to practice digital discernment by picking a digital technology or platform in their head to assess. What about that technology frustrates you? What about that technology do you like? Ott then posed some questions to ask about that technology.

“Does it contribute to your ideas about community or the way you think God’s justice should be enacted in the world? Does it impede that? Does this technology promote honesty? Inclusion? Integrity? The Golden Rule?”

Every year, the Day of Common Learning event is put on by the University and the Faculty Life Office to engage the SPU community in conversation and deep thought around a specific topic of interest.

This year’s event focused on “Digital Discernment: Navigating Life, Faith, and Technology.” Following Ott’s keynote address, students, faculty, and staff were able to attend afternoon sessions around the theme of faith and technology. Sessions covered a live experiment with AI Tools in the Classroom; leveraging ancient wisdom to steward AI opportunities; discussions of how to shape the digital lives of children; and more.

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