A bicycle, a cup of Joe, and this royalty free image of “steel_ruler_closeup” have all come to define an epic debate of immeasurable wit – and lousy gags – between a colleague and me over … systems of measurement.
We’re both the life of the party.
It all began after I wrote an article on my experiences in trying, and failing, to build a Metric-made foreign bicycle with Imperial measured American tools.
A case of “Measurement madness,” as I called it.
But not allowing this tragedy to go in vain, I decided to draw upon it – along with a more important mix-up by NASA in 1999 – to argue that only chaos and confusion prevails when Metric and Imperial collide.
And thus, it is no longer feasible for them to coexist within the U.S.
Yet, my colleague has gone “The whole 8.23 meters” to disagree.
He countered in his own article that not only is it unnecessary to move to one system, it would be unwise as the consequences of doing so are culturally catastrophic.
He raised to my article a cup of Joe before dropping a ton of bricks over it. Those being just a few of “the shorthands and standards of American culture” that would be lost to the mediocrity of Metric – the global system likeliest to dethrone Imperial.
And that’s an argument I can sympathize with.
Because I like the Imperial System. It’s worked for me, it’s worked for my colleague, and it’s worked for generations before us – as he pointed out in his article. Not to mention it’s what every tool I’ve owned was once measured by.
But I have to emphasize once now – because I finally built my bike.
It cost me an extra $12 to get the metric tools I needed – on top of something I already paid too much for – but it marked my preparation for the future.
And the future is in Metric.
But why? Why bother changing to Metric when I’ve just conceded that Imperial still works?
Well, why change to the automobile when horse drawn carriages still work?
Truly, the covered wagon is an American cultural icon. For generations, they took us across the entire continental U.S. while leaving cultural legacies along each rut of every trail they made.
And, as the Amish would contend, they still work just as well today.
Yet by the turn of the 20th century, Americans had begun to abandon the traditional ways of their wagons for a newer system – the horseless carriage.
And while these two systems of transportation did share the roads at first, it inevitably became apparent that such harmony couldn’t last.
Imagine trying to merge a wagon onto Rt. 9 – it’d just be a disaster waiting to happen.
A disaster not unlike the madness of Metric merging with Imperial.
I lost an extra $12 last week because of that mix-up, NASA lost $327.6 million in 1999, and somebody else is probably losing out right now.
When does the systemically driven madness end?
Well, for systems of transportation, it ended midway through the 20th century as the horse drawn carriage culture of America’s past was all but overtaken by the current car culture of today.
The Oregon Trail, despite its countless crossings and cultural significance, was succeeded by Rt. 66 – now a cultural icon in of itself.
And perhaps this foreshadows the end to shared systems of measurement in the 21st century, as the newer Metric System increasingly shows up in our everyday lives.
And not just for big businesses and organizations, but for common Americans who might make the mistake of buying a bike off the internet without checking what system it’s measured by first.
Just as Rt. 66 came to have the nickname of “America’s mother road,” perhaps Metric will come to be known as America’s measurement system.