Recently, an op/ed was published by my colleague at The Gatepost highlighting the perceived folly of using both the Metric and Imperial Systems, and the problems when using them together.
In the article, the writer points to his personal experiences purchasing a foreign bicycle that had metric-sized parts incompatible with Imperial, or United States Customary System (USCS), sized wrenches, and the 1999 failure of the Mars Climate Orbiter, in which a miscalculation due to the use of both units resulted in the loss of the satellite.
While these may be good arguments for moving toward one global system, the most important aspects of life have already transitioned to one system – the Metric one.
Switching every miniscule aspect of life away from one system to the other would result in a loss of the culture unique and identifiable to the United States.
First, let’s look at the current reality of measurement systems used in professional areas.
We can see the usage of the Metric System in every STEM field and job. I wonder if there is even an official STEM textbook in the United States that doesn’t use the Metric System for anything beyond the fundamentals.
Likewise, any international industry can’t use the Imperial System without risking mistranslations that could cost millions of dollars to fix.
Further, the federal government itself passed the Metric Conversion Act of 1975, which stated that the Metric System was “the preferred system of weights and measures for U.S. trade and commerce,” called on the movement to the Metric System by companies, and even stated that the government had to help with the voluntary change.
So, with the government offering to help create the change, why, over 40 years later, do we still use two systems of measurement?
Let’s ask another question – which would you rather eat, a quarter-pounder, or a 113.4-gram hamburger?
The USCS is a system engrained not in American eagerness to reject something foreign, but in hundreds of years of cultural and social identification through measurements both easy to express and easy to remember.
Cup of Joe. Footlong hotdog. Ton of bricks – easy to understand, easy to imagine, and unable to be translated into Metric.
These are the shorthands and standards of American culture.
Of my culture.
Every concession has been made where it needs to be in the professional world. Beyond that, the USCS has been designed for human use over hundreds of years.
A cup of Joe is about 8 ounces. A footlong hotdog is at least as big as my foot. A ton of bricks is too many for me to count, but I know it’s an awful lot, and it hurts when it falls on you.
Is moving to one measurement system an attack on who I am? No, that’s ridiculous. It’s an argument that has existed for hundreds of years before the Metric System.
But, the ideological ham-fisting of the Metric System into everyday life, through a call for a single, universal system, is something I can’t support.
For all my life, and my parents’ lives, and my grandparents’ lives, every measurement we’ve used has been good enough for us. Our system isn’t worried about putting people on Mars, and we know that.
But we also know how many cups of Joe we need in the morning. We know how full we feel after a footlong hotdog. And we will be damn sure dissatisfied if the Metric System hits us like a ton of bricks.