• Department of Communication
  • Communication
J. Nathan Matias, assistant professor, department of communication

Academic focus: I study digital governance and behavior change in groups and networks shaped by algorithms. I also organize citizen behavioral science with communities of millions toward a world where the power of digital technology is guided by evidence and accountable to the public.

Previous positions: Associate and Postdoctoral Research Scholar, Princeton University Psychology Department, Center for Information Technology Policy, Sociology Department, 2017-2019; . Visiting Scholar, MIT Center for Civic Media, MIT Media Lab, 2017-2019. More details in my CV.

Academic background: Ph.D., Media Arts and Sciences, MIT Media Lab, 2011-2017; M.S., Media Arts and Sciences, MIT Media Lab, 2011-2013; B.A. Hons, M.A. Cantab Cambridge University, English Literature 2006-2008; B.A., Elizabethtown College, English Literature 2001-2005.

Current outreach/extension projects: I lead a nonprofit that we’re bringing into Cornell and renaming to the Citizens and Technology Lab. We work alongside the public in citizen science to discover effective citizen ideas for change and to test the impacts of digital technologies in society. Right now, we’re working with Wikipedians across five languages to test ideas for broadening inclusion on Wikipedia that may also help us understand the science of appreciation in people’s lives.

Three adjectives people might use to describe you: Ask the team <grin>. Throughout my life, I aim to be curious, compassionate and principled.

What brought you to Cornell CALS? How do communication systems and practices shape the world in which we live? Cornell’s world-class communication department excels at studying this important question in ways that advance theory and practice alike. The faculty and students don’t just learn how things work—they are creating the perspectives, skills and expertise that are essential for our interconnected world to flourish.

What do you think is important for people to understand about your field? There’s never been a better or more important time to study human and machine behavior. Communication technologies have become a basic part of our world, and they influence everything we do, including our routines, our relationships and our civic lives. Social technologies have unlocked previously-unimaginable power, alongside new ways of studying and shaping human behavior. Society desperately needs to better understand that power to ensure its beneficial use and to govern that power wisely. We also need ways to learn answers that avoid abusing the very power we seek to understand.

If you had unlimited grant funding, what major problem in your field would you want to solve? Rather than solve a single problem with unlimited funding, I would love to see a world where every person has a chance to make discoveries about ourselves and our social worlds toward a flourishing society. In the much shorter term, I want to find ways for society and scientists alike to think about, live with, and hold accountable the automated systems that respond to our behavior and shape society in turn.

What was your most valuable research experience when you were a student? As a student at MIT, I got to work with a women’s media organization to audit systematic errors by tech companies in how they handled harassment against women online. That was when I first understood the way that citizen science can directly improve people’s lives while also advancing scientific knowledge.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve discovered about Cornell and/or Ithaca so far? Aside from the wonderful people and warm culture? I am convinced that Ithaca has a festival for every noun in the English language. I have already heard about Porch Fest, Wizard Fest, Reggae Fest, Apple Fest, a literary festival, Peace Fest, a Festival of Fire & Ice, a DJ festival, the Fairy Festival, and even a Dog Fest.

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