If you're reading this with the TV off, radio silenced and iPhone ignored, thank the late Clifford Nass.
Alarmed by how chronic distractions interfere with our ability to store memories and process complex thoughts, the beloved Stanford professor, who died Nov. 2 at 55, urged us to heed our parents' old admonishment: "Look at me when I talk to you."
His credo -- "Make face time sacred" -- is a tough sell in a region where multitasking is almost a competitive sport.
But Nass lived through example. So the campus is deeply mourning the loss of not just his face, but his humor, generous spirit, vast intellect, innovative research and deep wisdom.
"He radiated kindness," said Kathryn Segovia, who earned her doctoral degree under Nass and now lectures at the Institute of Design at Stanford.
A big thinker, clever experimenter and mentor to many, Nass founded and was director of Stanford's Communication Between Humans and Interactive Media Lab and co-director of the school's REVS Program at Stanford, a new field linking the past and future of the automobile. His research has been applied to more than 250 media products and services.
He was among the first academics to warn of the dangers of nonstop use of technology. His research showed that the heaviest multitaskers were poor at important cognitive chores like organizing information and discerning significance.
He also found that freshman multitaskers tended to write shorter sentences and disconnected paragraphs.
Research, he told one student, "is simply about differences that make a difference."
His heart was just as large as his expansive mind, said students and colleagues.
Nass' laughing and singing often echoed down the hall as he rushed to class, they recalled, on a university Department of Communication tribute webpage. When he entered a room, "it was like a small earthquake," with bear hugs and wide smiles, wrote one student.
A charismatic lecturer, he explained complex ideas through examples or short stories. His singsong voice almost squeaked when an idea excited him.
Oblivious to fashion, he was remembered this week for his tie-dyed T-shirts and mismatched socks. When he left his childhood home of Teaneck, N.J., his mother sewed cartoon animal labels inside his pants and shirts to help him coordinate his clothing.
He saw lectures as performance and once confided that his secret to teaching was having earned a Boy Scout merit badge in magic.
As an undergraduate math major at Princeton University, he delighted his friends with "The Cliff Conjure Magic Cart." Recalled roommate Mark Ginsburg: "It was something special ... sort of like an old-timer organ grinder's cart. Inside were all sorts of nested shelves with dozens of interesting illusions." He also performed as a street magician.
He could serve up tough criticism, but also startled students by submitting their work to top-tier journals. Their exams were sometimes returned with doodles or food stains, they fondly recalled on the tribute webpage.
He was also a "dorm dad" adviser for freshmen and sometimes held "face to face" days for the perennially plugged in, requiring students to talk to one another without texting on cellphones, scanning Facebook, tapping out tweets or playing video games. It wasn't always easy, but they loved him for it.
His support was emotional, as well as social and academic, students wrote. His room was open to a steady stream of students.
"He convinced me that life was worth living," wrote one former student. "When I told him I didn't have anything left, he said I would always have him. He was my angel."
Born and raised in Teaneck, N.J., Nass earned a bachelor's degree cum laude in mathematics in 1981, a master's degree in sociology in 1985 and a doctorate in sociology in 1986 -- all from Princeton University.
Nass died of an apparent heart attack after a hike while attending the Stanford Faculty and Staff Program of the Stanford Sierra Camp at Fallen Leaf Lake near Lake Tahoe.
He is survived by his son, Matt, a student at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Mass., and his partner, Barbara Pugliese. Funeral services were held Friday in Hackensack, N.J.
He was preceded in death by his parents, Florence and Jules Nass, and older brother, Michael Nass.
"He was a force of nature," said James Fishkin, chairman of the Communication Department. "He was young and vibrant and really at the peak of his career."
Said Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Rosalind Picard: "A plea to Cliff's students: Carry on what you have learned, for him."
Contact Lisa M. Krieger at 650-492-4098.
The memorial service for Stanford Professor Clifford Nass will be announced at https://mailman.stanford.edu/mailman/listinfo/nass-memorial.