Clifford Nass, a communication professor at Stanford University known for his research on technology and multitasking, died Nov. 2 at Stanford Sierra Camp near South Lake Tahoe, collapsing at the end of a hike. He was 55.
Nass was at the camp for a semi-annual Stanford Faculty and Staff Weekend.
Born and raised in Teaneck, N.J., Nass went on to earn a bachelor's degree cum laude in mathematics and a master's and doctorate in sociology from Princeton University. Before attending graduate school, he worked as a computer scientist at Intel Corp.
He became a professor at Stanford in 1986.
Nass gained national attention in recent years for research he conducted on multitasking in the digital age. In 2009, Nass and two other Stanford researchers found that people who are regularly immersed in multiple streams of electronic information -- texting on a phone, watching a video, checking email and the like -- do not pay attention, control their memory or switch from one task to another as well as those who focus on one item at a time.
"The moral of this story here is really clear: We've got to make face-to-face time sacred, and we have to bring back the saying we used to hear all the time, and now never hear, 'Look at me when I talk to you.'" Nass said at a TedX talk he gave at Stanford last May.
Nass was also the founder and director of the Communication between Humans and Interactive Media (CHIMe) Lab at Stanford, which studies communication in and between cars, social and psychological aspects of technology, human capacities (emotion, language, speech, personalization) and human-robot interaction. He also focused on cars as the co-director of the Center for Automotive Research at Stanford Program, an interdisciplinary effort to study and re-imagine cars.
He co-authored three books: "The Media Equation: How People Treat Computers, Television, and New Media Like Real People and Places" in 1996, "Wired for Speech: How Voice Activates and Advances the Human-Computer Relationship" in 2005 and "The Man Who Lied to His Laptop: What Computers Can Teach Us About Human Relationships" in 2010.
He was also the author of more 125 papers on the psychology of technology and statistical methodology.
"Cliff was a humanities person, not a scientist, but he had an extraordinary ability to understand how technology should be built to make it really good for people," Sebastian Thrun, a professor of computer science at Stanford, stated in a press release. "He was the epitome of a great Stanford professor. He was a leader in his own field, but he also understood how to bring engineering and the humanities together more than anybody else I know."
He is survived by his son, Matt, a student at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Mass., and his partner, Barbara Pugliese.