News

Clifford Nass, Stanford communication professor, dies at 55

Nass was known for his research on the social-psychological aspects of human interaction with technology and media

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.

Comments

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Posted by Justin Kitch
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 6, 2013 at 9:30 am

Cliff Nass was an amazing, enthusiastic and challenging teacher... the only class my wife and I ever took together at Stanford, and one that changed our perspective on the world. We still reference it twenty years later. A great loss to intellectually curious and socially concerned citizens of the world. Luckily we have his immense body of work to remember him by and build upon.


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Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 6, 2013 at 10:14 am

Very sorry to hear this ... this guy was very bright and way too young.

> 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.

Well, that is true of computers too. A processor doing one thing can do it more efficiently than it if has to stop, save what it's doing, load another job, do that for a while and repeat over and over, especially with more frequent interruptions. The difference is while processors will slow down, people will make mistakes. People are not machines ... hope we can remember that by remembering this man's work.


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Posted by John Donald
a resident of Menlo Park
on Nov 6, 2013 at 11:20 am

Clifford Nass was my favorite Stanford professor. Very sad to hear this.


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Posted by agreatman
a resident of another community
on Nov 7, 2013 at 3:46 pm

He will be deeply missed by all the students he had helped, he was a great man who took in so many students from local schools to host their summer activities.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Misha
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 7, 2013 at 9:31 pm

Cliff Nass was a wonderful man and a loving father who treated my own son, a good friend of Matt's, with such warmth. Much sympathy to Matt.

Please let us know of the memorial plans so we may pay our respects.


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Posted by A New Yorker
a resident of another community
on Nov 7, 2013 at 9:39 pm

I only "know" this man through his photo and obit: one of the kindest faces I have ever seen. Sympathy to his son.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by We hardly knew him
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 8, 2013 at 8:30 am

My husband, at Mr Nass' request, gave a lecture to his classes a few years ago. Unlike most geniuses, he was a truly kind and caring individual.

What a loss to Stanford and the world! Deepest condolences to his family.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Jenny or Carol Li
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 8, 2013 at 2:40 pm

I cried hard!
I was a babysitter for his son Matthew when he was a baby about 6 month old. This was about 20 years ago in Stanford.
I have not seen Cliff and Matthew for almost 20 years now.
This is so sad he is gone??
He always had big smile in his face with big love to Matthew whenever he picked up Matthew from me
My husband and I will miss him!
How is Matthew?
Rest In Peace!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Pat
a resident of another community
on Nov 9, 2013 at 8:29 am

I adored Cliff and will mourn his loss. Thinking of him always warms my heart and makes me smile.


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