Memories of Clifford Nass
Read about the life, brilliance, and kindness of Clifford Nass.
Listen to an NPR All Things Considered segment discussing his legacy:
In memory of Professor Clifford I. Nass and to honor his exceptional dedication to Stanford and his spirit of inquiry across many disciplines, friends and family have started a fund to support faculty or graduate students in the School of Humanities and Sciences.
Gifts and commitments made to the Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Jr. University in memory of Professor Nass may be made to THE CLIFFORD I. NASS MEMORIAL FUND. Selecting the ‘Other’ options will allow you to enter the fund name into the designation notation field. Denise Ellestad of the H&S Office of Development (Denise.Ellestad@stanford.edu 3-0023) is available to assist with any questions concerning donations.
Remembering Clifford Nass
Cliff’s brilliance was exceeded only by his generosity and warmth. I will remember Cliff as a person who made any room a happier place.
I carried Cliff’s books with me to graduate school and carried them back when I started as a faculty member here at Stanford. He has been, and will continue to be, an incredible influence.
I want to add my voice to the many friends and colleagues who are mourning the tragic loss of Cliff Nass. For almost thirty years he added a critically valuable dimension to the HCI program, truly addressing the Human in human-computer interaction. We collaborated on the advising of many students, both in CS and Communications, and I was always deeply impressed by his enthusiasm, creativity, and dedication to research. He had a unique vision that will not be replaced. We will work to keep it alive in our thinking and research. –Terry Winograd
Cliff was my Resident Fellow during my first year of college. He was always caring and helpful. He would come sit with us at dinner and we were always welcomed in his cottage. When I was applying to residential staff he was very supportive and I always saw him helping out others Oteroans. Cliff will be greatly missed :(
The first time I got to hear Cliff speak was my freshman year in Symsys 100. He talked about the human side of human computer interaction and all of the amazing research that he did. Any chance I got to hear him speak I made sure to bring people along! Cliff inspired so many people and I think his most amazing and unique contribution to the undergrads was how accessible he made research through the Comm268! It was an amazing experience to be doing cutting edge research at an appropriate academic level. Cliff will be missed greatly by all.
I could be in the grumpiest mood. And then suddenly I would hear Cliff coming down the hallway of the Stanford Communication Department, in his unmistakable voice, belting out a happy tune, singing to no one in particular, and I would immediately feel elated. Or, I’d overhear him deep in conversation with a student, asking probing questions about her plans for the coming semester, boundlessly excited about whatever she had to say. The way Cliff cared for his students — loved them and mentored them – was absolutely heartwarming. The way he lived life – never seeming to let little things get him down, never saying a bad word about anyone — is a model for us all. He was brilliant yet humble, absolutely radiating positive energy with every step. We are so lucky to have known him. And we are so unlucky to have lost him so suddenly and so soon.
I first met Cliff in an unexpected place… I was invited to dine with a student group and standing in line at the dining commons. The gregarious stranger in front of me turned around and unceremoniously started up a fun and fascinating conversation. Unbeknownst to me, I had just met Cliff. The conversation (but not necessarily the food line…) progressed and we realized we were fellow faculty members; wonderfully this prompted no change in the conversational style. I particularly liked Cliff’s subsequent “homage” to others in my research field: he disagreed with them violently but absolutely loved doing so! What delightful people to argue with, he said. In those first exchanges, I was impressed with the palpable joy Cliff brought to research and intellectual debate. If I can carry on even a fraction of that energy, I’ll be better for it!
Cliff would enter the room like a happy little earthquake, so excited to greet everyone by name and with big, grinning bear hugs. He became a summertime fixture around Google, coming in and floating around, looking for places to add value, and noticing things others didn’t. I’ll never forget the kindness, understanding, and humanity he showed everyone around him, particularly when he knew we were wrong. He’d listen intently, explain his reasoning calmly and with a few jokes, and leave us all better for having spent time with him. Really, a remarkable person.
As a PhD student in the com department from 99-2004, what I remember most is Cliff’s contagious passion for social science research. It was impossible not to want to embark on new studies with him. He described one of the most thrilling aspects of research for him – that moment when you know your data is telling you something new, and for a few minutes, you are the only one in the world with that extra bit of scientific knowledge, before you embark on the journey of sharing it with the world. Running my first experiments (on text to speech technology) under his supervision was thrilling. He even had us present our findings to venture capitalists.
Cliff and I were Fellows at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford in 2011-12 — who can forget his ebullience, his sincere interest in people, his infectious enthusiasm, his laugh. I leaned on him when my husband and I were considering becoming RFs in a Stanford dorm; he was certainly supportive and positive and helpful in encouraging us to do so, but what really sold us on the job is how he spoke with such care and concern for students. For him, it was a vocation, bringing his research concern for young people and their ability to connect and communicate directly into practice. We were so impressed with his insight into life in the dorms and his real, caring commitment to helping students naviagate their helter skelter worlds. He was one of a kind. I will miss him.
As a Latin American Knight Fellow at Stanford in 2007, I had the honor of meeting professor Cliff Nass and the privilege of taking part in one of his students groups. His knowledge and enthusiasm regarding social science and technology go way beyond the things he published. I will never forget the brightness and passion in his eyes. This is a very sad day for all of us.
Only has the pleasure to take one class with Professor Nass, but his enthusiasm, sense of humor, and obvious intellect made it worthwhile. I remember reading his book in his voice. Surely he will be remembered for both his academic achievements and his wonderful attitude.
Cliff was more than a luminary scholar or compassionate advisor. He was totally selfless, and unconditionally generous. Everything he had — his intellect, his humor, his time, his home — was given in service of the students who loved him, the researchers who collaborated with him, and the family who depended on him.
I would not have graduated Stanford without this man. And what is most remarkable is that he was able to sustain this mix of brilliance, energy, sensitivity and consideration across tens of projects, dozens of collaborators, and hundreds of students. He will be deeply missed by the many he has inspired.
Cliff was a wonderful and warm human being, who had an infectious enthusiasm about him. Although I didn’t work directly with Cliff, he was always happy to chat and offer his advice and expertise. He was also involved in so many different interesting things that it made it a pleasure to have a conversation with him. Sorry to hear the news of his passing and he will definitely be missed.
Cliff is one of the most inspiring and heart-warming people I’ve ever met–an incredible academic, mentor and friend. I will miss him so very much.
During my years as director of the Symbolic Systems Program, no other member of the faculty had such a following among students. Cliff’s dedication to his students and to his research were inspirational. The talks I heard him give were both wonderfully entertaining and deeply thought-provoking. We weren’t close, but he seemed like a warm and generous human being, as well. He will be sorely missed by many people.
This is not only a great personal loss, but a massive loss for the research community. On rare occasion do you come across a person who not only had an impeccable passion for his research, but was a true exemplar in bridging communication between humans and machines, and teaching humanities to humanity. It did not matter if you were, a student, a faculty, an outsider, he listened to everyone with a keen ear and enthusiasm that only Cliff could.
Showering him on his birthday
Cliff was a reporter’s dream–great quotes, funny, irreverent, and enthusiastic about his groundbreaking work. We stayed in touch after I left Stanford News Service and, a year ago, he agreed to have my multitasking teenager work in his lab. Other summer commitments got in the way and she didn’t go, but Cliff remained enthusiastic and interested even as my daughter pursued other interests. Cliff was a brilliant researcher and a complete mensch. We will miss him very much.
I was a young CEO trying to figure out complex technology solutions and Cliff was a spectacular friend and advisor. I counted on his mind, but was frequently touched by his core kindness. I feel a loss for goodness in the world on hearing of his passing. Cliff, please do find a way to reincarnate your beautiful spirit. If anyone can, you will. I remember flying you in to speak at a conference on our behalf. You came out of the restroom just before going in stage with your shirt tail hanging out through your fly. By then I knew you well enough to know that it was part of your unique genius. I just smiled and let up be you. Yourrocked the house that day. Again. Goodbye Cliff.
Cliff was such an incredibly brilliant and warm person. He was always there for us, he mentored so many of us, he inspired us, he made us laugh! How are we supposed to go on without him? He probably would have said “… that is a great question…” – now the sad reality is that there doesn’t seem to be an answer. He was actually beyond great and Stanford is such an incredible place because of people like him. — Cliff, you will always be with us – we will make sure of that! Take care, Sven
I was a member of the search committee that chose Cliff Nass. I forget precisely what position we were supposed to fill, but the late Steve Chafee persuaded me that no matter what we were supposed to do, we needed to pick the best available candidate. Cliff was thoughtful, broadly knowledgeable, enthusiastic, ingenious, and he asked good questions. Neither Steve nor I knew much about Cliff’s area of scholarly interest, but we agreed that he would be a great addition to the faculty. In short, the decision was a slam-dunk. In the department in those days, a senior professor was assigned to mentor new hires and I drew Cliff Nass. We had long conversations over excellent lunches, but he needed no advice from me. He was a great teacher, a hugely productive scholar, an inspiring mentor, and above all a witty, productive, decent guy who continued to as good questions.
I was the department manager in Communication when Cliff was hired and have remained friends over the years. I’ve been sharing this memory of Cliff with friends and colleagues today: literally running late for class, sweating profusely, shirt half-way tucked, and high probability of mis-matched socks or shoes. What a wonderful and good-hearted soul and such a brilliant mind. My thoughts are with his family and everyone who loved him.
I am so shocked. This is such sad news. Just 10 days ago, I had sent an him EM and complemented him about his fabulous interview that I heard on NPR, KALW, with Angela Johnston, on her “Cross Currents” radio program about the Manual, Visual and Cognitive activities of driving. Such a brilliant mind and an authentic, enthusiastic character. I have not known him that long, nor well, yet he was such an inspiration to me.
How many among us can say they’ve changed the circumstances of which they were a part? Cliff was that person: his spirit, good-nature, energy, brilliance and sheer presence altered any group he joined. I was fortunate enough to share a year with him as a CASBS Fellow. He made the place happier, more fun and more meaningful, and he did so without ever knowing the effect he had had on others. From his lopsided dress and grin to his indomitable willingness to address problems both intellectual and social, his absence diminishes the groups he left behind. A reluctant goodbye to a terrific guy, whom I’m glad I had the chance to know.
He was an inspiration. I so admired his work.
Cliff had more confidence in many people than they had in themselves. If he saw that you were passionate about something, about anything, it became his duty to figure out — and execute — a plan to help you. And he didn’t think twice about it. That generosity with his energy, time, and attention was always present and available for everyone. There are only a select few who have the ability to profoundly touch so many peoples’ lives and Cliff was one of those people. Cliff’s presence was a force, his intents were pure, his energy was infectious, his stories were captivating, his generosity was unparalleled, and his laugh was unapologetic. Cliff, I’ll forever miss you and your tie-dye shirts with matching shorts.
Professor Nass was an outstanding educator and an inspiration in my life. He was a key part of this university, and I am so incredibly blessed to have know him. My time here will not be the same. Sending my prayers and thoughts to his family.
GD Ram Ramkumar
Cliff was very warm, helpful, and incredibly insightful. He had deep understanding of the interaction between humans and machines. I had the good fortune to meet Cliff a few times to request feedback on a startup, and continue to reflect on what I learnt. His loss will be felt by a wide community.
I will regret not finding more opportunities to talk with Cliff. Every conversation was just fantastic. I only had him for one class, which I took on a lark, and turned out to be the best class ever. After class, I would throw out ideas for our team’s project, and he would build and direct those ideas in a way that only Cliff could do. Just bumped into him a few weeks ago, and he still remembered who I was and the project our team worked on. Can’t believe he’s gone.
Cliff was an incredible, friend, mentor, and professor. He guided me from my first days at Stanford as an Otero freshman, helping with everything from academic to social decisions. I will never forget his sense of humor, kindness, or enthusiasm for even the small things in life. Cliff was always eager to stop and talk to any of his Oteroans, even if he had an important meeting to go to. He was a great listener and never failed to give sound advice. We will miss you, Cliff.
Cliff was a wonderful human being. As my Freshman RF, he brought joy and positive energy to the dorm that helped many of us feel at home away from home. As my advisor, he was always there with a listening ear, good advice and a welcoming hug. I feel very lucky to have had Cliff in my life. Thank you for everything, Cliff. We’ll miss you.
My dear caring, honest, and generous and brilliant friend, I will so miss your reach and reaching. I invited you to speak about new paradigms for using computers: you rocked the house, I invited you to speak about voting technology, you blew Washington DC’s minds, and ooooh, oooh, ahhh, is it fun to think with you, fast insights in every comment! You were always so supportive to me -in a thoughtful honest and adventurous way.
I was a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (CASBS) at Stanford University at the same time as Cliff, and felt so fortunate to share that time with him. We had many lunches on the CASBS patio filled with laughter and new ideas – he had a wonderful sense of humor, open mind, and generous spirit, and was especially helpful to more junior fellows, like myself. He gave me great advice on how to make my ideas exciting to others, and showed a passion for learning that was infectious. I admired him greatly, and he will be deeply missed.
How can Cliff have left us so soon? I talked with him far too rarely, and our conversations always ended with “What great ideas! This is fun! Why don’t we talk more often?!” Back when he was finishing his PhD, UCLA interviewed Cliff for an assistant professorship. If we couldn’t get him, at least he went to my alma mater, where he thrived. Lesson learned: spend more time with great people like Cliff Nass when you can, and spend less time multi-tasking….
Comm 1 with Cliff Nass freshman year is what convinced me to major in Comm. I will never forget researching with him, and inviting him over for faculty night at casa zapata. RIP. You will be missed.
I have lost a friend and a giant inspiration for my own work. Cliff’s smile, wit, enthusiasm, open-mindedness, hard work, relish of a good challenge, clever experimental designs, and fabulous, passionate, communication style were just a few things that made me always look forward to a chance to get to be with him and learn from him. I feel a terrible loss at his passing from this life, so young. A plea to Cliff’s students: Carry on what you have learned from him. If I can be of help, let me know. I was a huge fan.
Cliff’s passion for ideas and enthusiasm for people are indelible. Over the past couple months we were plotting how to bring attention to changes in mobility that will rock the world. It’s unfathomable to me that I’m writing a Memorial and not the next email in our thread. Tragedies like this make you stop, grow, and hopefully bound forward… as Cliff would want.
I was a PhD student in the Stanford Communication Department from 1978 – 1985 studying with the late professor Everett Rogers, the founder of the field of “diffusion of innovation” from which is derived the term and study of “early adopters.” Cliff Nass arrived at the department after I graduated and had become a manager at the University’s academic computing department. A call went out for research subjects who would participate in Cliff’s early research on human/computer interaction and I responded. Cliff was running the experiments himself at that time — no grad students were yet involved in the “grunt work” of running subjects through the data collection process. Cliff was thoroughly engaged in the effort, enjoying himself and creating a fun experience for me too. He displayed then the enthusiasm, kindness and devotion that all who have commented here have noted. What a loss to Stanford, the field of communication and to those who care about where technology is taking us. Prayers and condolences to his family, friends, students and colleagues.
Cliff, you are incredible. and will be greatly missed. I consider it an honor to have known you and interacted with you. The world could benefit from more people like you. thank you.
A Journalism Fellow
I admire professor Cliff. Nass and love his class so much. He is a great person. What a loss!
I am so saddened by Cliff’s sudden passing that I hardly know what to say. Cliff was an inspiration, a guiding light, a scholar, a colleague, a friend. I will miss his wit, his charm, and his deep insight. Every time (every single time!) I ever saw him, talked to him on the phone, or just exchanged email it was he who put a smile on my face and left me the wiser. Cliff was a giant and touched so many. He was truly one of a kind.
Thank you Professor Nass (although you’d be quick to correct that to “You can call me Cliff.”) From when you first arrived to Stanford (and your proud parents came to watch you from the back of the class), you have been an inspiration. You introduced us to the concept of thinking far outside of the box. I cannot thank you enough for your patience, enthusiasm, curiosity, and support.
Once attended a lecture from Prof. Nass. Unlike any of the other presenters he did not use a powerpoint deck and yet made it extremely engaging and funny. He knew how to tell a story and his passion was obvious. One of the more approachable professors in the university and especially Revs, he will surely be missed.
Lassi A Liikkanen
It is hard to imagine Cliff not being here. His presence was ever so captivating and inspiring, also in the face of hardship. He had a wonderful capacity to turn things around and see further than many. I really look back to the few discussion we had as one of the most insightful I ever had.
Cliff, muistosi ei kuole
Cliff … you were an amazing guy. I loved having breakfast with you every day. I’m going to miss seeing you in your tie dyed shorts, N*SYNC theme Otero shirt … walking out with a tray full of dorm food …always a huge grin. Every single morning at the Otero breakfast club. I felt like I could talk about anything and you would listen. You loved that shirt just because we made it. What a dude. I wish we had caught up!
You are the man. 100%. I know in the end you truly wanted us to be happy and successful — your staff, your students. You took it seriously and I admire that and I’m grateful for it. You always batted for us. Thank You! RIP
Cliff was a gift. An everyday kind of a guy you’d be happy to have a beer with. And you are guaranteed that it’s going to be a treat!
I remember at our most recent dinner our conversation went over human nature and type matching. We were talking about shortened attention span and its impact on learning and synthesis of deep thoughts, when a hypothesis was place on the table, that unless emotions were at risk, our natural, curiosity drivers would always take us elsewhere, most of the time to a more trivial place. Like they say, a low energy state is a good match. We couldn’t agree on what the high energy state is, though. Maybe when everything is thrown upside down?
This afternoon I had a brief glimpse into that state, first hand. Cliff’s passing at 55 qualifies more unequivocally as an upside-down state.
After trying to distract myself unsuccessfully I decided I’d better to go to Stanford and talk to somebody. I started my car and almost immediately as if in a trance, I saw a white beagle walking towards me, in the center of the road, about 100m away! Slowly, I stopped my car, rolled down the window, and managed to waved at the little dog. A pretty one, I thought, with black spots over white. Did Cliff send him? As if recognizing something, he quickly dashed over to the far side and disappeared in the opposite direction, with a slow moving Audi behind.
I don’t remember how I ended up on campus. I only remember the traffic was extra smooth, considering it was in rush hour.I was going through my emotions, I thought.
Cliff is more than a regular guy. A powerful thinker with a large heart he’s brought so much to us and we are all better off for that. Now it’s our turn. How about creating a chair in Cliff’s name at Stanford to remember him by?
Who knows how to start this? I bet many of us would want to help and can chip in. Who wants to take a stab at this first?
Freshman year, I struggled really hard adjusting to life at Stanford. I came in thinking I was gonna be a math major, but I remember coming out of a midterm doubting if I was good enough to be here. I called my parents bawling, and they didn’t know what to do since they were so far away. So they called my freshman RF, Cliff Nass, who then called me to come to his cottage, so I could cry to him, since I didn’t have my parents here with me. Cliff wasn’t a math professor, but he majored in math, and he still knew everything …so he tutored me in math, so I could pass Math 51. No other faculty member or mentor at Stanford has ever gone out of his way to help me to this extent. Thank you, Cliff Nass, for everything you’ve done… for me and all the Otero babies of the past. Rest in peace, Cliff. May God be with you forever.
2 weeks ago, I was thinking to myself of all of the great professors that I have had here, and one very special one came to mind-Cliff Nass. I realized that after I had him as my professor one year ago, I had not met with him since then. I didn’t want to let this happen, so I scheduled a meeting to catch up, since he was always someone that I admired as a teacher and as a person. I met with Cliff last thursday, and after speaking with him, I was really glad that I had the fortune to speak with someone so willing to share his wisdom and ideas, and so encouraging of my own thoughts and ideas. I left that meeting ready to take on the world, and excited about how my contributions could be made. Cliff had a way of doing that- making people feel special and talented, which is not easy in the often overwhelming reservoir of talent that is Stanford University.
Needless-to-say, I was simply stunned when just two days after we met, I heard the news that he had passed.
Cliff, you will be deeply missed by all. But your legacy and your thought-provoking wisdom and kindness live on in all of the students who ever left your class excited about what they could do in the world. Thank you for everything, and God Bless.
Professor Peter Hancock
This is a sad blow to our various HCI disciplines and our science in general. He was an inspiring figure whose insight and contributions will be sorely missed. I extend my condolences to his family and colleagues. I can say with certainty that his impact went well beyond his own local community.
When I think of Cliff, I think of boundless passion and energy. It’s hard to imagine that’s gone. One random memory flitting through my mind is the time I made an offhand comment to Cliff that I didn’t understand regression – even after 3 stats classes. Cliff grabbed a piece of chalk and turned a murky, mysterious process into straightforward logic in less than 5 minutes – all with an attitude of “See? Isn’t this great?
Cliff was always full of energy and life. He always went out of his way to say hello to me with a big smile and an outstretched hand.
Cliff was on my dissertation committee when I was at Stanford. He always seemed to have time not only for his own students, but for anyone else who had a problem, or an idea. Cliff always made me feel like a member of his team, even after I graduated. I will miss him.
As a student in the 80’s, I went to meet with Cliff in his office about a research project. The main thing I remember of the conversation was his inability to sit in his chair. Whenever he spoke his whole self moved and the chair creaked around and his hands flew. I can still hear the sound of his voice.
Bear hugs. Inspiring chats. Contagious laughter. Courage to imagine – and work on – a better future for all of us. I will miss you, Cliff.
Cliff was the kindest-hearted and biggest-minded scholar I have known. As a Ph.D. student, I TA’d my first class under Cliff, and true to his style it was not a job for me but a course in pedagogy. Cliff met with me and the other TA’s every other week to talk about the class, answer questions we had, and teach us how to be educators. I will never forget when he told us that it was okay to put our egos (and self-doubt) aside and say “I don’t know” if we could not answer a question: “As a scholar, your commitment is to the truth.” Cliff mentored me through five years of a Ph.D. program and beyond as a teacher, a member of my dissertation committee, and then as a fellow professor. He was always incredibly generous with his time, always offered tough critical insights on my work that made me a better scholar, and provided more than a few moments of clear advice and uplift. I will always fondly remember the last time I saw him in person in 2012. He was up on the hill at CASBS and I had the chance to visit when I was in town. We sat outside and talked for two hours about being parents, starting new projects, and most of all, his enthusiasm for his work around the importance of human attention and connection. That is what I remember him most for – his enthusiasm for life, devoted attention to those around him, and deep valuing of human connection.
What a tremendous loss! I am in shock. What a warm and energetic person and remarkably insightful researcher. Cliff always took time for me and was a significant inspiration for my PhD Dissertation work on tele-embodiment at UCB. He constantly challenged me in wonderful ways on how I was constructing communication over a distance. Throughout my career he has always gone out of his way to be a colleague and friend. I will dearly miss his energy, charisma, wisdom, and personality. I continue to be inspired by Cliff. He still had so much to teach us. We will miss you!
Michaela (Schlocker) Logan
I trace my whole career path back to sitting in Nass & Reeves’ Comm 1 in 1996 and realizing “Wait, you can *study* what people do on computers?” I’m regretting not keeping in touch and still boggled by the news. My thoughts are with his friends and loved ones.
I took Comm 1 with Cliff. Mostly I learned that Cliff could only match his outfits if matching cartoon characters were ironed onto the inside of his shirts and pants. And yet somehow by the end of that class I knew that HCI (which I had never heard of before) would be my career. He met my family at a social function once, where he picked up a single chocolate covered strawberry. Within seconds, chocolate was all over his face, hands, and shirt – it seemed inconceivable that one strawberry could have held so much chocolate. When we were working on my honors thesis together, we would sit outside his cottage and he would pick up muddy sticks off the ground and poke at my laptop screen to make his point, completely oblivious to my cringing. And when it came time to submit, he saw no problem taking a paper written by a coterm student and submitting it to Science. Two rejections later, and not the least bit deterred, we were published in PNAS. Though Cliff never seemed unrealistic, somehow reality couldn’t hold down his dreams – especially when it came to his students. And his enthusiasm was contagious. I’m sad to think of all the big dreams he’ll take with him.
It’s inconceivable and utterly tragic that such a warm, generous, thoughtful, and brilliant person is no longer with us.
As the Comm PhD program director, Cliff was one of the first people I talked to when I was deciding whether to go to Stanford in 2003. I smile remembering our first conversation: I was living in Ireland and he called me from his cell phone as he walked around campus. He sold me on the program, talked effortlessly and brilliantly about ideas, and periodically interrupted our chat to give warm and enthusiastic greetings to passersby. He gave me a virtual tour of Stanford, not only telling me about its exciting research and stellar people, but interjecting to give me reviews of campus locales and good study spots. He created and invited others into such a wonderful world of energy and delight and insight, how could I *not* go to a place with someone like Cliff?
Although we never worked together closely, he welcomed me at his lab meetings and once gave me kind and patient advice on a poorly conceived study I was thinking of running. Instead of reminding me what I didn’t know or bringing out my insecurities, he showed me what I could do and why it would be important. Even to those of us who weren’t officially his advisees or who were working on seemingly unrelated projects, he was a generous and supportive informal mentor who always had time to think with us.
His passing is a reminder to me to try to bring that kind of generosity, thoughtfulness, and energy to my own students and colleagues — it’s Cliff’s beautiful life legacy, but it’s begun decades before it should have.
Cliff was always energetic, creative and generous to students. I was impressed by his lecture style since the first day of class. I talked with him about his teaching style and he said he saw himself as a magician in front of students and audience. The most enjoyable part for him in education was the impact on students even after 20 years. He mentioned how great it was when he heard his students came back many years later and told him “oh, I remember you taught me this and it’s so useful.” Now It makes me even sadder when I think of that conversation. Thank you so much, Cliff, for leaving a great impact on us. We’ll deeply miss you and continue be inspired by you.
Cliff may not have been the most energetic person on the planet, but he was certainly in the running. I think he was honestly excited and cared about every idea that he heard or thought and every person he met. My only consolation is that he will now be reunited with his brother who also went too young.
Cliff was the first friend and mentor I made at Stanford. He was the foundation of my experience at Stanford and the main reason I felt like it was home. Despite his busy schedule he would always find time to have lunch and dinner in the dining hall with Otero and would even miss meetings to have lengthy chats if he ran into you anywhere on campus.
He was a great listener and a thoughtful advisor who somehow knew just the right balance of guidance and humor for every situation. For an extremely shy undergrad his patience and willingness to listen inspired my confidence to speak. I was so lucky to have known him and will greatly miss him. Thank you Cliff! Otero Love.
Cliff was a force of nature, a brilliant social scientist, and one of the kindest, warmest, loveliest, and most loveable people I have ever known. It was my great good fortune to spend a year getting to know, learn from, and work with Cliff at Stanford’s CASBS. Indeed, my greatest regret is that I did not meet him sooner. My hope, amid the sadness and loss, is that his insight and humanity will live on in the lives of those he touched so that his spirit will continue to make the world a better place. We miss you, Cliff….
It still feels surreal that I won’t be able to see your big smile and receive your warm hug any more. It’s been 13 years since I graduated, and yet you’ve always been willing to make the time out of your insane schedule to sit down with me, show genuine interest in my life and work, and lend a listening ear, just as when I was your student. You’re the most brilliant, energetic, caring, loving, and sincere person that I have the privilege to know, and I’m just not ready to say goodbye to you… Cliff, thank you for everything you’ve done for me and now rest in peace.
Cliff took responsibility for everyone’s well-being, no matter the inconvenience. He invited us freshmen to dinner because he wanted us to be less lonely during a school break. His home was open to a constant stream of students, but I never felt like another appointment on his calendar.
When we talked a week ago, he was about to visit a friend who had an unexpected medical condition. Cliff told me — with a smile — to make the most of every day because we never know when we’ll go. I’ll miss his cottage covered with paperwork, his stories of performing magic at the Catskills or of growing up in New Jersey, and the excitement in his voice.
Where to begin? The tie-dyed shorts he was wearing the first time I met him. Overhearing his phone calls from the doctoral student cubicles. Hearing him say on the first day of methods class, “Your grade in this class is a (expletive) ‘A’, now let’s talk about designing experiments.” The accumulation of chalk dust on his blazer sleeve from using his arm as an eraser while lecturing. The random doodles and spattered food on my qualifying exam. These are all great memories, but my favorite is watching Cliff interact with some of my own former graduate students about a year ago. One of those students later told me that she had never met a professor quite like him before. I told her that I hadn’t either – there’s only one Cliff Nass.
I was a member of the ’86 to ’90 PhD cohort in the department; we started the same year that Cliff arrived at Stanford. Members of the cohort and Cliff were all more or less the same age (except John Newhagen, who had a few years on us), but he was so unlike us in every way…so much smarter…so much more energetic…and so very much goofier. We all fell in love with him, and were in awe of him. His unbridled passion for conducting research was utterly infectious…we all contracted a serious and uncurable case.
Cliff told us so many charming stories, but one stands above all others as exposing the charming essence of Cliff. (It may be completely bogus, but it matters not, it is still pure Cliff.) When Cliff’s mom sent him off to college, given that she was a bit concerned about his fashion sense, she very considerately sewed animal labels into shirts and pants. Any elephant shirt will match any elephant pants; any lion shirt will match any lion pants; etc. A great system for young man with a minor case of fashion sense impairment. His new friends at school lthought it was a great system too, and one day they decided to have some fun with it. When Cliff was at class one day, they came into his room and did a bit of swapping among the animal labels, intentionally creating the most outlandish matches possible. Ultimately, however, they were a bit disappointed in their prank…Cliff never noticed until they finally fessed up that he had been walking around campus all week looking somewhat loud. Cliff, however, thought it was a wonderful prank.
He will always be in my heart.
I worked with Cliff for many years – and I cannot remember a single time leaving a meeting with Cliff on any topic, without feeling full of energy, enthusiasm, and ready to go out and do fantastic things, thanks Cliff!
I never imagined that I would be lucky enough to go to a school like Stanford and I especially never thought that the distinguished professors who taught there would take the time to get to know their students. Like so many professors at Stanford, Cliff completely shattered that preconception. After my first (incredibly entertaining) lecture with him, I nervously asked him a question after class. Not only did he take the time to answer my question but he told me how “thrilled” he was to talk to his students and even encouraged me to work in his CHIMe lab. I was truly stunned by such a friendly, enthusiastic response from a professor like him– it was and still is amazing to me. After that, I became more involved in the Communication Department and was lucky enough to eventually co-term with him as my advisor. That one encounter with him–my first encounter with him–changed the course of my Stanford career and, in turn, my life. I know many other students who can say the same thing. That’s the kind of professor he was.
He was an amazing person, too. He was hilarious, kind, caring, and incredibly optimistic–always singing and laughing even when he had a trillion stressful things to do. He was more comfortable with himself than anyone else I know and I always admired his confidence. He would do funny little things, like ask to borrow someone’s pen and immediately start chewing on it, or during student presentations he’d seem preoccupied with his phone but at the end of each presentation, without fail, he would provide the most thought-provoking, insightful analysis anyone had ever heard. He was exceptionally brilliant, talented, and lovable. I am so sad that he is gone. The only thing that makes me feel any better is to think that I was fortunate enough to know Cliff and that it’s possible for people like him to exist in the first place.
I met Cliff almost thirty years ago in 1985 when I was studying at Princeton. He assisted Professor Jim Beniger — the class was SHA291, Technology & Social Change. Cliff used his zany enthusiasm to rally the whole class in various experimental endeavors, one of which was an early social network via which we ‘discussed’ the course readings. Cliff exuded joy and enthusiasm then, just as he did when I got back in touch with him in 2007. On a couple of occasions since Cliff has come to my high school classes to share his insights with my students; it has been a treat to see him develop from the fun Graduate TA into the personable sage. Just this past summer I recontacted Cliff so that I could introduce my now high-school age daughter to him. She was taking a class in JAVA/robotics, and I wanted her to meet the former grad student who I consider to have been one of my greatest teachers. Even though he was busy, Cliff took the time to meet her, encouraging questions and empowering her to express her thoughts, doubts, and observations. He was an amazing teacher and a generous soul. Cliff – I will miss you. – Julie Mott
Each encounter with Cliff was fascinating, inspiring, fun. Cliff, you will be deeply missed.
The athletic side of Cliff:
Little league, coach pitch. Gee, that coach doing pitching looks so familiar. OH, that’s Cliff, and where is Matthew? Cliff is such a dedicated father spending more time with Matthew than I did with my son Austin on the opposing team. Such a surprise to meet on the baseball field!
Cliff is more than a baseball coach. He also coached soccer in AYSO. It was the last game of the season in AYSO. Again Matthew and Austin were on the competing teams and it was such an exciting game. One team led by one point, soon the other caught up to be even. It went back and forth, making all the parents on the sideline jumping up and down; but Cliff was more than just a parent, he was the coach!
Why was I surprised? Well, my wife Kathy worked for Cliff for so many years and we became family friends. Cliff never struck me as an athletic type, never ever. So running into him on any sport field AS A COACH was such a surprise. He tried so hard to be a good coach, out of the love of Matthew and the care for all the kids on the team, and the players of the opposing team too!
We joked and teased about those wonderful moments at the dinner table of the family parties. It was the good and happy time.
I also remember the party in my house when Cliff was granted the chair professor; and there was the cake with the chair on top to celebrate, such a beautiful chair!
After Kathy left MediaX, we didn’t meet as often but always happy to run into each other. And then oldest daughter Emily took Cliff’s lecture, receiving the special attention!
It was such a shock Sunday afternoon when Kathy received the email! we just couldn’t believe the email was true! Kathy had to call Byron’s house to confirm.
farewell, Cliff. I’ll always remember your big smile, the warm heart, and the love!
I’m very grateful for having been able to work in Cliff’s lab for about a year and a half. I learned so much from him and I am inspired by how generously and respectfully he treated all of his students and staff, including those of us from other departments. May he rest in peace.
Risa in Japan
I was very shocked that bad news. I was looking forward to meeting him and learning from him at Stanford form January. I pray for his peaceful repose.
I learned something every conversation Cliff and I had. He contributed so much. He will be missed by so many … those that knew him and those who didn’t but wished they could have.
Cliff was an amazing mentor, cheerfully adapting to where I believed I wanted to go and offering good advice and substantial assistance along the way. He encouraged me to take a year off when I was disheartened in grad school and was so sure I wanted to be a full-time designer (making sure I took the MA degree before I headed out), welcomed me back when I returned with a game plan for finishing the ph.d., and helped me position myself well as an academic when I was ready to return to the university full-time, among many other things. I could never have had the unorthodox and fulfilling career I have had without his support. Trying to carry on his legacy by offering the same to my students–meeting them where their passions lie, and using my network and whatever scraps of wisdom I have accumulated to help them along their paths, whatever they may be. Cliff was a person who deeply cared about all of us students as human beings, rather than as simply extensions of his own ambitions, and our lives are richer for it.
Yes, brilliant, funny, inspiring, generous. It is the “generous” that glows brightest in my memory. He invited me to be “his” graduate student the afternoon I wandered into his office, a refugee from graduate studies in Engineering; older than he was at the time, and to most, perhaps not a top horse to bet on to finish a Ph.D. in the social sciences. This most generous offer, and then the years of encouragement and challenge in which he was fully engaged, were an amazing gift. As his TA for several years I saw that every lecture was a performance event – his students full-on engaged — from which he emerged dripping in sweat. His secret to teaching success he confided: the Boy Scout merit badge in Magic. Cliff had some special magic all right, enthusiastically shared.
Cliff was an inspiring mentor and a wonderful human being. I am honoured to have been his student (1989-1994), and delighted to have known him. He was a great story teller, and this made him a great teacher. Here’s one of many examples. When talking about social roles and social actors (early CASA days), he described going to Auberge de Soleil in the wine country and having a fancy meal served by a fleet of waiters. In between courses, someone came and brushed the crumbs from his table with a special device. Cliff was stunned by this action, and confessed that he didn’t know how to interact with this person since he had never encountered this particular social role. I can remember distinctly what he said in his typical enthusiastic manner, laughing, sing-song style and slight NJ accent — “I had never seen a crumb scraper before!! Should I tip him? Talk to him? It was crazy!!”
I miss the giggles and the stories. Thanks for the experience, Cliff.
I was very, very sad to read that Professor Nass passed away. I didn’t have the privilege of meeting him personally, but we corresponded when he readily provided a very kind endorsement for my book. I enjoyed reading his wonderful book,The Man Who Lied To His Laptop, watching the videos of him speak, and sharing his learning with others. He was a brilliant scholar, and a mensch. You can see the kindness in his face. My sincerest condolences to his family, his friends, his students, and his colleagues.Thank you, professor Nass, for your kind presence in the world. You are not gone. You will forever live in your work and the kindness that touched so many people.
We are all deeply saddened at the BP CTO team to hear of Cliff passing away so suddenly. It was a pleasure to have presented to him and to have shared some of his work in what we do.
Grateful Otero Resident
Cliff saved my life. Not in the “thanks man, you saved my life” way, but in his own loving, trusting and supportive way he convinced me that life was worth living. When I told him I didn’t have anything left, he said I would always have him. He was my angel. Rest in peace.
Cliff was unique and will be remembered by all who had the opportunity to meet him. I interviewed him a year ago on the implications of automated driving at CARS. His insights were deep and original. I remember giving him a headlight for his bike and his joy and interest in this small device were genuine. His smile, humor and intellect made him stand out. It was a pleasure to meet you, Cliff. Lebe wohl.
In my first walk and talk meeting with Cliff I told him how reading, “The Media Equation,” changed the way I teach Psychology. He said thank-you and told me about how his son, Matt changed his life. During extensive and multiple conversations with Cliff when he was writing his new book, “The Man Who Lied to His Laptop,” we discussed his cool multi-tasking research and he talked about Matt’s impact on all of his work. In the midst of teaching a few Comm. sections Cliff guided us exuberantly with short story examples making advanced methods understandable and then quietly, proudly added that Matt was heading off to college. During my conversation with Cliff in his office last week, we met in his office-where he admired the view and told me how fortunate he was to be in such a place, work with fantastic students and faculty and staff, and do what he loved. And of course, when he walked me out of the office he knew I wanted to hear about his proudest accomplishment. He smiled, “Matt is doing so well with his studies and life, I couldn’t be happier about that.”
I remember meeting Cliff many years ago, and showing our demo car to him and a crowd of 5th graders at Herbert Hoover Elementary School after one of Matt’s friends brought Dr. Nass in as his prop for his book report on Dr. Nass’s book, Wired for Speech. Since then, we stayed in touch, and he hired one of my friend’s son’s, into his lab solely off of my recommendation. He has always been a kind, kind man and super wonderful. I only wish I could speak to him now… he would smile about our recent wins for our tech finally making it to cars…
Comm 169 Student
Cliff sparked my passion in open source and autonomous vehicle technology. I was a student in his computer interface class during the Winter Quarter 2013 and always sat in the front row because of his enthusiasm. I will never forget how hard he worked to get the “Big Idea Festival” going. Over the years, it had been growing, but this year it absolutely accelerated. GM, Ford, Toyota, and every major technology and automotive company sent representatives to the event, and the press coverage even included the NYT. But what he was excited about was the quality of our student projects, not the big names of the attendees. This is what set him apart. In my mind, cements his legacy as not just a brilliant scientist or researcher, but an amazing teacher and mentor.
After I graduated from getting my undergraduate degree in Creative Writing at Stanford, I was lost. I tried many different jobs. Eventually, I worked for Cliff as a research assistant when he was first studying how humans responded to computers as if the computer were human. This was in 1991. Cliff was kind and joyful, always. During that time, i decided to apply (quite late) to the MA program in the Communication Department. Cliff encouraged me, supported my very late application, and persuaded others to let me in. I was admitted two weeks before classes began. Whenever I passed Cliff in the halls, he’d give me a smile and a nod. I always knew he was on my side. People like that make all the difference in our lives. He came at a key juncture for me and went to bat. I’m still grateful.
Cliff was one of the most imaginative scholars I’ll ever meet. We met at Stanford about 12 years ago and had many opportunities to chat and share ideas over the years. I’ll miss his excitement, enthusiasm, and optimism. This visionary scientist, mentor, and friend left us way too soon. Deeply missed already. –Teenie Matlock
Cliff has been a thoughtful, imaginative, and generous colleague for nearly two decades. While I was teaching at Stanford two years ago, his generosity made it possible for my students and I to complete two studies that we could not otherwise have done. When he heard that we needed assistance, he immediately volunteered and also enlisted others to streamline things so we could start our work quickly. I not only feel indebted to Cliff’s research legacy, but also his simple daily acts of kindness. –Sharon Oviatt
Cliff and I had just started on a journey to write a book together to help people find sanity in an always-on world. I learned of Cliff’s death a few hours before we were to record a webinar in NY together. My heart aches that I will not be finishing this work with Cliff. Cliff is an amazing man whose brilliance makes our world brighter. We have all been blessed by you Cliff.
I had the pleasure to take two classes taught by Professor Nass. Truly an incredible mind and even more amazing person. Many of my friends had him as their mentor and they always talked about the incredible amount of attention he gave to each and every student. He will certainly be missed.
Cliff taught the very first communication class I took, and he was on my dissertation committee. He’s definitely one of the big reasons I decided to study Communication – largely because his excitement for the field was so contagious. While it’s obvious that he was such a brilliant thinker (always willing to propose truly gutsy and innovative hypotheses on human behavior – many of which turned out to be true!), I will remember Cliff for the warmth and genuine energy he carried with him always. The inflection in his voice (I can still hear it now), sometimes speaking so quickly and at such a high pitch that it was hard to understand, was such a great marker of his engagement and interest. I will remember the very human ways in which he showed his care for others – hugs, running to catch a door, big bright excited eyes upon meeting, cheers of encouragement – he radiated with kindness. Such a wonderful role model – saddened to have lost him so early, but feeling fortunate to have learned from and enjoyed his presence.
It’s been days, but I am still stunned by this news. He was one of the most amazing mentors I have ever had. There are so many pieces of his wisdom I have tried to retain and pass along to my own students (e.g., research is simply about differences that make a difference). Over our many meetings since I graduated from being his official advisee, he generously continued to give me advice about my research and career (and play with my kids). If it weren’t for Cliff, my life would be drastically different in so many ways. And I am certain the same goes many many others. We are all mourning this unexpected and extremely premature loss.
Cliff, although you said that Facebook/social media is the happiest place on earth, today, for me, it is the saddest. I will always think of you as my first academic father, with love, gratitude and admiration.
I took COMM169 with Cliff last winter and was shocked to hear the news. He was an amazing amazing guy and had so much energy in everything he did. He was one of the most charismatic lecturers I’ve had here at Stanford and I loved how his voice went up and down and sometimes got a little squeaky when he got really excited. He was warm and inviting and welcomed students for office hours – to talk about the class, about life, about anything really. I feel so lucky to have had the chance to take a class with him. Just on November 1, he sent an email blast to all the students in COMM169 last winter, about more opportunities to continue learning about what we talked about in his class. He was that kind of guy – one that’s made a difference in millions of lives, whose legacy will surely live on in the hearts and minds of all of us.
Cliff, I hope you’re reading this page. It’s a perfectly scattered and loving tribute to what you meant to us.
All our thoughts are with Cliff’s family, colleagues and friends. At the World Economic Forum we are so happy to have had the bless to connect and collaborate with Cliff in the past few months, and so are we sad he won’t be with us at our Annual Meeting in January. Davos without Cliff will be less special!
I’m stunned and terribly saddened at this news. When Cliff came to Stanford, I was beginning work on my dissertation. Although he wasn’t my adviser, he read every word and sharpened my thinking. Cliff was my model and inspiration both for how to conduct a class and how to present research. His boundless intelligence and generosity of spirit will be greatly missed.
John E. Newhagn
I arrived at Stanford as a PhD student in 1986 the same year Cliff was hired. I was over 10 years his senior but that never seemed to bother either of us. I did a secondary analysis of a ASNE data set on media credibility for one of his seminars. The summer when we finished it off we had some interesting lunches; me with a career as a war correspondent and him with a background in sociology, math, and God know what else. We got it published In Journalism Quarterly with virtually no changes. At a dinner I had with Steve Chaffee at a ICA conference years later in Jerusalem, I made a comment about some piece of research as being a bit off the wall. Steve, a giant in the field in his own right, said “I thought that piece you did with Cliff on credibility was weird too … at the time.” Of course the implication was that it took him a while to get the point and that people usually don’t get the really good stuff folks out on the cutting edge are doing right away. And so it was, Cliff had the kind of intellect any truly serious scholar should covet. He was never inside the box, or as Khun would say, the dominant paradigm. He had the capacity for conceptual abstraction and intellectual playfulness I came to love.
He was quirky and socially awkward. So what. Who isn’t. Or better said, I usually don’t trust those who are. I remember meeting one of his students at another ICA meeting in Washington D.C. and I made a crack about him. She got a bit perturbed and kind of dressed me down. I realized right away she was right, judging Cliff’s social graces was not the point. Judging his expansive intellect, however, is the point and I seriously doubt I will encounter another person quite like him in my lifetime.
I met Cliff only briefly a handful amount of times, but several of my colleagues had the opportunity to work with him closely and agreed with my initial perception of him being so happy and energetic. The events he organized around CARS were impressive and all his students always spoke dearly and highly of him. All the words in this blog are a testimony of the great loss for his loved ones, his family, friends, Stanford and our research community. Fortunately, Cliff will continue to inspire many for a long time to come.
I can still hear Cliffs laughter echo through McClatchy hall. He was an amazing scholar and teacher. Generations of students will tell stories about him and his research will continue to live in those stories and the tremendous insights it generated. He has built a lasting legacy – and we are yet to realize how much we have truly lost.
Cliff – thanks so much for always being ready with a grin and a hug, for teaching us math 51 in your cabin, for being a wonderful RF to every freshman who was lucky enough to pass through Otero while you were there, for dressing the part, and for being so genuinely generous of spirit. We will miss you.
I was an undergraduate at Stanford, and a new comm major when Cliff arrived. I was a student in his first research methods class that fall. He kept us engaged with his unending enthusiasm and passion for what he was teaching. He walked all over the front of that classroom, grabbing the strings of the blinds, getting tangled up in them and leaving a trail of chalk dust behind him. I remember it, and how much I enjoyed it, vividly. I remember that his parents came to one of our classes to see him teach. The door to the classroom was at the front of the room, and as they walked in a bit late, Cliff was both so proud and embarrassed to have them there. Later, Cliff became my undergraduate advisor and he helped me pick up the pieces of my academic life when my mother passed away. He took care of every administrative detail and called me many, many times afterwards that year to make sure that I was okay. I gained my first research experience as his research assistant for several quarters. I’ll never forget applying his coding scheme to the job of “chicken sexer,” nor how much he loved that example. He remains a role model for me. I’m so grateful to him for the learning, the mentorship and the friendship he gave me, and grateful to Stanford and the communications department for bringing him to campus and into my life. I’m a better and different person, and Stanford is a better and different place, because he was there.
It was a great gathering last night at the OpenGarage, with Jeff Zwart at the speaker, Cliff. Packed house like so many times when you were around…but hugely different.
It was also kind of surreal to hear your voice again, on the NPR All Things Considered segment. Hearing your voice was something that really, really brings back memories. Miss you.
Rest in peace, Cliff. We will all be looking for you up there one of those days.
My first interaction with Cliff was his RF Letter for all the residents of Otero. It was a blessing to live in Otero and get to know Cliff. He helped me through some academic challenges and always made me feel welcomed and that I belonged at Stanford. He was always open to having people drop by his cottage. Cliff’s enthusiasm and excitement was contagious — it was hard to feel down after talking to Cliff and getting engulfed in one of his big bear hugs. I’m so sad that I didn’t get to interact with Cliff more, but I’ll treasure every one of those memories that I have with him. Rest in peace, Cliff.
I was so blessed to have Cliff as a housemate in Mountain View right after he graduated from Princeton and was just starting to work at Intel. I was just starting my freshman year at Foothill College. The incredible conversations I had with him over dinner for many months continue to reverberate in my life. His enthusiasm and brilliance even at that young age of 23 crossed the spectrum of physics, chemistry, history, sociology, religion, philosophy, mysticism, and yes, cute girls, with ease. He stoically maintained his deep emotional warmth and caring nature even when devastated by the shocking loss of his beloved older brother to a drunk driver.
I should also add that I relied on Cliff’s strategic insights years later to give me the confidence to take that plunge into the social sciences. That was when he was a young assistant professor and I was an engineering graduate student at Stanford. And yes, it was his subsequent insistence when I was an aspiring historian that technological change in history should be analyzed formally with variables and functions. Such a radical intellectual challenge launched me on a research program in the strategy and economics of innovation that continues to this day.
So, God bless you Cliff for all you have for me and countless others who’ve been so privileged to have your friendship and guidance. The world sparkles less brightly now that you have departed.
Ellen Wartella & Chuck Whitney
Cliff’s death was stunning – we both gasped when we heard it — and a blow not just to Stanford but to a very wide research community. His boundless enthusiasm and intellectual curiosity was a joy to behold. Even though we saw him infrequently, every occasion was a pleasure. He is gone far too soon, and we will miss him.
So Sad! I miss you, Cliff. I regret that I should have visited you last time I was in SV. I fully respect your thoughts and view. I am sure many great research and products keep coming out with your idea/ suggestion by all of your collegues and students. Thank you, and Memories remain forever. Rest in peace. Jack
I did my graduate work with Cliff many years ago, and we didn’t keep in touch after that. But he was a source of constant inspiration through his research and his interviews: his energy and enthusiasm renewed my own. He was such a bright light! I truly feel as if I have lost a true friend; and I have certainly lost a mentor. My heart and prayers go out to his family.
It’s a week now. Cliff. Two decades, a close friend. Warm, caring. Bursting with curiosity. We shared a great deal — personally and intellectually. A light gone out of our universe.
What a huge loss. It is still sinking in… I met Cliff 27 years ago when he arrived at Stanford. We shared similar research interests and a growing group of mutual friends and colleagues. For ten years during the 1990’s we were neighbors, and his son and my son were born around the same time. Cliff was a devoted father. I remember birthday parties and Halloweens and play dates and trading card game tournaments with the boys. Cliff enjoyed them as much as the boys did, and all the kids loved Cliff’s infectious sense of playfulness and fun…and his magic show! He and his son were very close. Others have shared eloquent memories of Cliff’s tremendous warmth, generosity, enthusiasm, humor, zaniness, brilliance, and scholarly legacy. He was all that and more…a dear friend, a mentor to many, an engaging public speaker, an inspiring and original thinker, and also a phenomenal dad.
First my condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Cliff, his loss was so sudden. His spirit leaving us will leave a huge void. When I applied for graduate school, he took an interest in my looking to study innovation and learning, he was intrigued by my research ideas, and always wanted me to ‘take a stand’ – don’t be neutral you must take a point of view and defend it. That was the way to start a dialog, and get to a new place in seeing things. His support of my Masters program, in 1994-5 was a turning point in my life. Which I will always treasure and remember my study at Stanford as one of the best years of my life.
Jenny Li and Yugang
I cried hard. What a shock and loss! We miss you Cliff. We regret that we have not seen you for over 20 years after we left Stanford. I was a babysitter to Cliff’s son Matthew. I remember each time when you came to pick up Matthew, you were always excited with deep love and smile on your face. You are a warm and caring person. Memory remain forever. Rest in peace.
Wow, am extremely surprised and saddened to lose such a voice and such a person. I wish the best to his family, friends and team. And let’s keep his spirit more alive than ever with our minds, voices and actions.
Of all the things I learned from Cliff and am better for, it was how he took the work seriously yet always had a huge sense of humor about himself. And his self-effacing manner taught me then to do the same about myself and still does. It was Cliff more than anyone who humanized the department and helped to make it a place I loved coming to and being in for so many hours of the day. I haven’t cried much during my adult life, perhaps 2 or 3 times in the past 30+ years, but when I heard the sad news about Cliff’s passing I wept uncontrollably. He was a brilliant, gentle, kind, happy, caring and wonderfully infectious spirit who will always live in the hearts of those he touched.
Thanks to NPR for featuring the story of Dr. Nass’ untimely death and also for giving airtime to his work over the years. NPR stories helped me keep track of him. I knew Clifford Nass when I was a teenage girl; he helped me with my math homework and to my surprise, I got excited about math. He was a born teacher. He was an intellectual powerhouse. His magic act was great too. He excelled at making people laugh, and getting them interested in things they might not have believed they cared about. His Stanford obituary states that he will be missed; I don’t doubt his enthusiasm took the campus by storm. He was a rare person of energy, wit, and empathy. A light has gone out.
I honestly still can’t believe that Cliff is gone. Cliff was one of the sweetest and purest people that I’ve ever met. He somehow made you feel like you were the smartest, most important person on the planet whenever he talked to you.
He treated my research like it was groundbreaking, he treated my problems like they were the most critical, and he treated any of my points in conversation as if it was the most insightful. He was one of my biggest supporters on campus and I knew he wanted the best for me and that I could talk to him if I had any problems or needed advice.
I’m really sad that he isn’t around to be that kind of support for future generations, especially since he made such an impact on me and so many other people in the short 4 1/2 years that I knew him, but I’m glad that I and many others got to live in his freshman dorm, work in his lab, and have him as a friend and supporter for the past few years.
Cliff, this is XYZ. I will always remember your huge smile as you called out to me your advisee in the hallway of the Comm. Department 27 years ago. Our research fields were drastically different but you queried, prodded, and provoked, while pacing your 3rd floor office facing the Quad, advancing my thinking and buttressing my methodology. You were a hugely popular teacher of the standing-room only Communication and Technology course for which I was a TA – I remember us catching an unfortunate cheating case committed by a star Cardinal football player. You were adamant about the F grade – you demand students to build knowledge, and more importantly, integrity. It seems to be just yesterday when you and Barbara showed up at my wedding – straight from the airport. You wouldn’t miss that for anything. Cliff, you were a great friend and mentor, and above all, you were kind, sincere, and honest. I’ll miss you
Cliff would just light up a room and put smiles on everyone’s faces. He was so sincere and genuine and really cared about everyone he ever met. He really put the students before himself in everything he did. I still remember him driving for twenty minutes to let me into Otero to grab my belongings after school was already out, making himself late for his dinner date and I only found this out later. He really cared his students and always put them first. We will miss you Cliff.
Dear Cliff, This is Catherine, we only met a couple of times, but your big smile always in front of my eyes. Thanks for all the hard work you have done for Steve. It was such a big pain not able to see you again. I came to this site a couple of times each day and read every single notes from everyone. We miss you so much.
To my chagrin I have not seen Cliff in person in about 20 years but I can still envision him clearly and can still hear his voice. I can see him walking back and forth, his arms waving during lectures in emphasis of many points, his voice frequently cracking. And I can see him briefly pause now and then to scratch one side of his head with his opposite hand as he pondered something he suddenly found especially interesting, and as if scratching his head would help him arrive at the solution. Cliff’s authenticity drove his mesmerizing presence. He was a bubbling cauldron of curiosity, enthusiasm and brilliance which he could not hide even if he had wanted to. He was really the embodiment of what an amazing, inspiring teacher/educator/professor should be.
I just want to say Thank You to Clifford Nass for making education fun. I always had an inclination towards technology and was curious as to how people fit within all technology has had to offer. Each job that I have had, has actually been a direct correlation to what I’ve learned in his classes. I hope your family is spending this time reflecting on the positive times that they spent with you because I know that I will. God bless you and thank you.
Just three weeks ago my coworker and I had the loveliest dinner with Cliff, his son, and girlfriend, in downtown Palo Alto. And then after dinner, Cliff invited us see and try the autonomous car simulator! At the lab, he clicked on all these buttons, flipped all these switches, and there we were–driving down the virtual road, with virtual people on the sidewalks and virtual road hazards popping up. It was so much fun (except the motion sickness he warned me about!) I left for home at the end of the evening amazed at his infectious enthusiasm, and generosity. The very next day I called a terrific author, and assigned a story on Cliff’s work. I was proud that Cliff was advisor to our magazine, that we had been so clever to find such a smart resource. When I heard the news, it seemed impossible. I’m terribly sad that we’ve lost such a presence. My condolences to Matt and Barbara.
I was sorry to learn today of Cliff’s passing. I remember his infectious enthusiasm and his amusing description of variables: “It wiggles!” I can’t remember ever seeing him without a smile.
Cliff was an inspiring, creative, energetic colleague. He inspired people all over the country — or for that matter, all over the world. I served on numerous advisory committees with him and it was always a delight. I voiced my memories of him at several venues across the US (Boston, New York, Chicago, Palo Alto) and have been pleasantly surprised at the number of people that came to me afterwards to tell me how much Cliff had done for them, inspiring them, helping them, editing their papers, and so on. He is missed.
There will never be another Cliff Nass. No matter where Cliff landed, he would have been a transformational force, we were lucky and fortunate to have his intellect focused on the world of media and communication.
One quick anecdote, and perhaps an insight into why multitasking was anathema and fascinating to Cliff, since clearly his focus was limited to the one thing that captured him at the moment. The first day of classes – the meet and greet in the Fall of 1986 when he first joined the faculty, Cliff showed up with one brown shoe and one black shoe – the reason: “I got dressed in the dark, so who knew!” This was the kind of lovable gaffe that Cliff committed again and again. The following year, when I was TA for the Methods Course he was teaching, he was so proud of his new sport coat until he raised his arms in his signature demonstrative fashion to reveal the tags that were still hooked to the coat. Fast forward 5 years later when Cliff was visiting our department at UCSB where i was an Asst. Professor, and the tags were still attached to another sport coat. But Cliff inhabited the world of ideas, not the world of appearance, so his vividness, enthusiasm, and passion will remain with us – and we are all the better for that.
I fist met Cliff about 24 years ago when he was a young assistant professor and stilll doing magic shows. He came to tthe dorm (Naranja) where I was a resident fellow then, invited by Peggy Lee (now a prof at ASU), one of the many students he advised. He was hilarious and delightful. Later, he presented early results from the Media Equation work with Byron, at our Forum in Symbolic Systems. The findings were so startling that I think people didn’t know how to react. Through the years, I got to know Cliff better, and came to be friends with him when we were RFs in Wilbur together for five years. Despite the great demands on his time as a world-renowned HCI researcher, Cliff made time for what was important in his many relationships with other people, and came through when we needed him as a faculty voice in Res Ed. In these later years, his media multitasking studies, beginning with his work with Anthony Wagner and our students Eyal Ophir and Aman Kumar, have opened up broad new vistas of inquiry.
Cliff told me that his style as a magician represented the tradition of the clever bumbler (I can’t remember his exact words). The magician appears incompetent, and the trick appears not to be working, “but in the end it does.” I think this style also found expression in his research. Cliff described great research as a process of putting together studies that are individually feasible and stand on their own but that, when looked at collectively and in retrospect, transform the way we see the world in a way that would have been impossible to convince people of at the outset. Like the magician who pulls a rabbit out of a hat at the end of a long routine, the researcher overcomes our doubts in a delightful way and triumphs in the end. But the research, in Cliff’s case, has a much more lasting impact than that of a magic trick. His work is monumental for understanding the human-computer relationshp and for establishing methods for studyiing it rigorously. And as a bonus, for those of us who knew him, he was an incredible friend and colleague.
Huge smile, heart-filled laugh, incredible mind, and a spirit that I don’t have words to describe- that’s how I remember Cliff. In one word, joy. There is no one like Cliff. May his transition from this place to the next be as special as the impact he had on our world.
I will say Kaddish for you my friend, with tears and sorrow, and happiness for having known you. Until we meet again! -Moshe
Cliff’s Comm 169 class was the first class I took at Stanford that truly delighted me. As a transfer student, I was scrambling to find my legs in the whirlwind that was undergrad at Stanford, and with Cliff I found it. He took me in as an advisee with his customary warmth, friendliness, and approachability, as he did so many other undergrads, and it was because of him that I found a niche within Symbolic Systems where I finally felt at home. Not only do I owe him my Honors Thesis, but it was also because of him that I was able to put together a plan to apply to grad school in Symbolic Systems. And then it was because of his generosity in giving me a TAship and a RAship that I was able to afford it. I wish I’d told him in the last 9 years since finishing my MS what an impact he’d had in enabling me to succeed in life. His warmth, humor, intelligence, and Cliff-ness made him such a big presence in this world. I miss you, Cliff.
It has been quite a shock to learn of Cliff’s passing. He was a founder and co-director of the Kozmetsky Global Collaboratory (KGC) and the Real-time Venture Design Lab (ReVeL) at Stanford, where we were working on fundamental and applied research aimed at ensuring sustainable social and economic prosperity for all individuals and communities. Based on his research and his teaching (particularly with the introduction of “the Big Ideas Festival” in his class) he came to experience first hand the possibility of reaching such a goal through pan-disciplinary research. He took up the charge and led by personal example, embracing and engaging with faculty and students from other disciplines. He was energetic, he was insightful, he was warm, he was generous with his time, and he was always very caring. We will miss him greatly. Ade Mabogunje
These warm and touching comments witness what an extraordinary person Cliff was. They will help me remember my own personal friendship with him.
We shared a passion for understanding how people get on with the world of things. Cliff was truly the human in human-centered design.
I will always remember my first lesson with Cliff, in which Cliff drew a giant hypodermic needle on the board, and explained the whole history of Comm Theory in two pictures: one represented the strong effects paradigm, and the other was a spiral type of thing with dots that represented the limited effects paradigm. He always emphasized the strength of weak ties. And he had this knack for simplifying things to their essence; now that I look back, I cherish the way he explained things. Another bit of wisdom in my first year that stays with me to this day, after I exclaimed,”There’s so many things things to do at Stanford,” referring to research, Cliff replied to me with the utmost empathy and gravity that “There will always be more things to do than there is time.” I am grateful to have known such a great thinker, and will always remember the greatly inspiring Clifford Ivar Nass.
I worked closely with Cliff for two years on his last book and feel very grateful for that, for the chance to have gotten to know such an amazing person whose kindness and exuberance for everything that he did I admire and will dearly miss.
When we worked on the book, we spent a lot of time at his cottage, sitting side-by-side on his couch reading drafts on his laptop. As we talked, I would watch his email roll in. Tons of requests, about his research, from students he mentored, from his dorm, and some how he always managed to make time for people. It’s amazing how much he gave of himself to others, how much he really cared and sincerely listened.
I have many fond memories of meeting over breakfast at the dining hall. He noticed that I always would get different things to eat. Sometimes while he was talking, without thinking, he would take a piece of fruit or a sausage from my plate and munch on it. Sometimes he would pick up his plate and lick it. I was surprised the first time, but after that they were just another endearing thing about him.
The picture is in the Borders that closed in Palo Alto on the day that our book launched in 2010. He had a gaggle of undergrads with him, and I can remember so clearly how joyful that moment was, to see the book in print and out in the world. Cliff had such a positive force about him, so electric. It was a wonderful day.
I was in the doctoral program in Communication at Stanford from 1985-1989 and was stunned to learn this morning through a brief article in Stanford Magazine that Cliff Nass, my beloved Principal Advisor, has died.
I believe (if I’m not mistaken) that I was actually his first doctoral candidate for whom he held the Principal Advisor role. He was only one year older than me and while I was learning how to write a dissertation, he was joyfully learning how to advise one. I still recall our almost weekly meetings in which he would ask in various, giddy ways, “Are you making progress?” “Are you focused?” and “Are you getting closer to done?”
Seeing that he has died brought back a flood of intense memories and prompted me to do something that I have not done in many years … reopen my dissertation. In the Preface section I had written, “My deepest gratitude and admiration goes to my advisor, Cliff Nass. I am gladly indebted to him for his abundant enthusiasm, prudent advise, well-timed inspiration, valuable exactitude, and genuine care.”
He was certainly an influential, bright-bright light.