Seattle Pacific University's Student Newspaper

The Falcon

Seattle Pacific University's Student Newspaper

The Falcon

Seattle Pacific University's Student Newspaper

The Falcon

SPU attempts digital discernment

22nd Day of Common Learning lands on open, closed ears
the NWSL quarterfinal match between the OL Reign and Angel City FC at Lumen Field on Friday, Oct. 20, 2023 in Seattle. (Rio Giancarlo/Circling Seattle S)

Kate Ott, author of “Sex, Tech & Faith” and “Christian Ethics for a Digital Age,” spoke to an overflowing Royal Brougham Pavilion on how Christian values interact with the digital age. The keynote speaker for Seattle Pacific University’s 2024 Day of Common Learning on Jan. 24 began the day’s conversation around “digital discernment.”

Ott spoke on how to discern one’s moral compass and values online. With cell phones, social media and AI as a necessary, all-encompassing reality in this age, Ott argued for a “relational and imaginative” relationship between people and technology.

“Are your core values […] the same values as the digital systems in which you exist?” Ott asked in her speech.

Ott argued for greater presence of efficacy, innovation, connection and other human values online, along with an awareness of technology’s limitations. Reactions to Ott’s presentation were varied. Second-year Spanish major AJ Setala was excited to attend the talk, but left uninspired.

“Overall, I was not a fan of the speech. It felt like we weren’t the intended audience,” Setala said. 

Setala felt the target audience was those who had experienced the onslaught of the Internet and other digital spheres in their grown lives, not those born into an already technological world.

The conversation Ott wanted to jumpstart — about finding context and morality in the digital sphere — is one college-aged individuals have spent their entire lives having. 

“There was an assumption that the listener had never really thought about their Internet, media, digital habits as moral habits,” Setala said. “The vagueness of, ‘Think for the first time about your actions online!’ made it feel very unapproachable and inapplicable as somebody who has been online their whole life.”

After Ott’s speech, the question-and-answer period of the session began. Students were urged to stay and continue the conversation, but most did not.

“They embodied their apathy, I think, in that moment,” said Katherine Douglass, reverend doctor and associate professor of educational ministry and practical theology.

Janet Hauck, a business and social sciences librarian in Ames, found the speech fascinating. She was surprised by the students’ lack of interest.

“I felt like [Ott] was really talking to everyone – students first, I thought. But maybe students felt like they’d already heard all this,” Hauck said.

Olivia Clark, a second year studying ecology and eco-theology, found Ott well-spoken and the topic relevant, if a bit “cliche.”

“I’m here for a class, UFDN. I think I understand why my UFDN professor assigned it,” Clark said. “There’s a lot of unchecked morals in how you’re getting technology. As a Christian, I can change and approach how I use it.”

Douglass led an afternoon session titled “Digital Discernment at Home, School, and Church.” Navigating the digital world in the Douglass home includes no screen time during the week.

“It’s [a decision] that comes out of our values for the way we believe as a healthy way to spend time, it also comes out of our value of our children’s brain development,” Douglass said.

“Christian hacking,” a phrase Ott used to show how Christians can use technology to further their goals and values, reminded Hauck of the advice she gives to students struggling with programs or equipment in the library: that they are smarter than any piece of tech.

Technology presents both intellectual and emotional challenges. Like Douglass, Hauck remembers the struggle of raising her children in a newly digital world.

“Texting was a new thing, so I just watched as [my children] would send a text, and then just wait,” Hauck said. “This thing can control your emotions.”

While Ott’s speech and the many afternoon sessions did not garner intense student interest, faculty like Douglass and Hauck value the Day of Common Learning highly.

“It cross-pollinates different groups, where we’re all normally in the same role every day. I’m always in the Professor role, you’re always in the student role,” Douglass said. “I feel like it has a democratizing effect on a school.”

Check out The Falcon’s Instagram for more coverage of student and faculty perspectives from the Day of Common Learning.

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Ella Beth Sessions, News Editor
Ella Beth is a second year english literature and honors liberal arts double major with a minor in journalism. She occasionally finds time to pursue her hobbies, which include reading, biking and crafting.
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