Calling All Nerds

There’s been a lot of name-calling in recent years, so it’s interesting when an epithet becomes a commendation. To be a called “nerd” was once to be sidelined, but now it’s a quirky badge of honor.


Perhaps it’s just a result of the volume of information and change that’s constantly flowing past our eyes and ears and minds that we find some comfort in knowing someone who seems to have a handle on at least one aspect of what’s going on in the world. We might not be able to understand how it all works, or where it’s all going, but we know that someone has the Marvel Universe completely mapped out, and has logged all the inconsistencies between the film and comic book versions.

Of course, nerdity is not always so frivolous as that. The most prominent example on the national stage right now is probably Dr. Anthony Fauci, who it would be fair to call the country’s preeminent epidemiology nerd. And on a local level, the recent press release from Segway Inc. about the ceasing of production of their famous (and often mocked) “human transporter” brings to mind the nerd who invented it — one of my personal heroes, Dean Kamen of Bedford.

In an interview long ago, -before the advent of the Segway,  Kamen told me that his first invention was a system of strings and pulleys that allowed him to make his bed every morning by simply pulling a cord.

I don’t know, but that sounds like a nerd to me. And I doubt that Kamen would object, except to point out that the world needs more, not less, of whatever it is that inspires young people to obsess over science and technology. That’s why he created what’s arguably the largest facilitator of nerdity in America: the FIRST Robotics Competition.

I could list plenty of other examples, but that would spoil the treat we have for you next month when we celebrate the nerds among us. We had planned a story on Granite State Comicon, a nerd-filled cultural confection that would have been a welcome relief from the cares of the world, but, alas, the world’s cares canceled it this year.

So rather than give up entirely, we will instead go deeper on the topic to root out and celebrate the various strains of nerdity that live and work among us. We’ve got a list of nerds that might surprise you, and you might know a few names we should add to that list. If so, please send them along.

One place that I often ponder the power of nerdity is while sitting in the dentist chair, staring up at that UFO-shaped light fixture that’s always there. I took pretty lackadaisical care of my teeth and gums while growing up. The earnest counsel of the dentists and hygienists always struck me as a bit obsessive, so I mostly disregarded it. Now that I have my own periodontist whom I must see several times a year (Hi, Dr. Wang), I’ve become a fervent proponent of flossing.

Anyway, having my teeth and gums meticulously examined, probed, cleaned and repaired by someone with human-size hands working in a space that holds a little more than four ounces of liquid (that’s equal to about four shots of, say, whiskey) always makes me wonder how they do it. Sure, they’ve got mirrors and lenses and special tools, but they make delicate and reliable alterations and repairs to a part of you that’s in constant use and do it while you are still awake and salivating. It reminds me a bit of a nerdy sea captain in his swaying cabin building a ship in a bottle, but it’s a bottle half-full of sea water.

As a journalist, I’m a generalist, so I’m not sure what motivates someone to devote a life to something so specific as the tissues and bones and enamels of the human mouth, but I’m awfully glad for it. And maybe it’s the novocaine, but I always find comfort there in the chair pondering the benevolent obsession that turns a mere person into a Top Dentist.

Categories: Editor’s Note