Monday, April 29, 2013

The Metric system needs to be more universal.

In some ways this blog was written to irritate my American friends and boost Canadian pride, but I also believe a wider adoption of the metric system would benefit everyone.  Conservatives resist change even when change is necessary for growth and even survival. The metric system is not that new, going back to Napoleonic times, but many Americans have felt it an affront to their established habits.

While we try to communicate and work with a diverse world population we need some systems we can agree on.  It is what we agree on that allows us to discuss our differences. It will be a long time before we have a universal language (and it won't necessarily be English), but if we can agree on measurements it will ease communications.

When I was young  I was only vaguely aware of the metric system and in fact spent a fair amount of time trying to understand how many inches in a foot, how many feet in a yard, how many feet in a mile, how many ounces in a pound, etc. etc.  In science classes there was some measurements in metric which at first were just another complication in figuring out things.

Sometime after I became a parent my kids were much more exposed to the metric system.  I know a lot of adults of my age and especially older ones were very resistant to the government bringing in the metric system.  One argument was that until our major trading partner the Americans agreed it would just further confuse things.  My point is that yes Americans are confusing the system and it is time they bent.  If we had waited for them we would have lost too much, just as they are now losing.

My own adjustment was easiest with driving a car.  Once the distances were posted in kilometres I started calculating how long  it takes to travel to my destination by the speedometer now posted in kilometres per hour (with a reference to miles as well).  Fortunately the speed limit on major highways was 100 kilometres per hour.  Filling up in litres instead of gallons and figuring out how far I could go on a full tank soon was incorporated into my thinking.  Will admit that weights are still not adapted many years later because my wife does most of the buying of meats and grocerites.

American scientists have adapted to the metric, but the public has not.  When scientists attempt to explain their research they do so from a metric basepoint, but usually add in the Imperial measurements so consumers can understand.  But politically Americans feel they are exceptional and they don't see why they should bend.  Another indication they are not as global as they like to think.  Americans show a disdain for scientists that is absent in most of the world.

Ironically, although the metric system is used by scientists it is actually much easier for the rest of us to work with.  What could be easier than working with ten--the number of fingers or toes of most humans?  All kinds of calculations involving measurements are unnecessarily complicated meaning they take more time and are more subject to error.  Errors with metric are usually involved with decimal points and mostly easily spotted.  Americans increasingly find it confusing when they travel outside their country and have to adapt.  Mind you it is also annoying for the rest of the world to have to put up with American idiosyncrasies   We are forced to adapt, but to what end?

I am still used to thinking of a basketball hoop 10 feet above the floor.  Of course it still is, but we can use the metric equivalent.  Originally the peach basket was tacked in where there was an available place to tack it.  Americans think of basketball as their game, but they should remember it was invented by a Canadian.

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