Wednesday, April 30, 2014

What happened to the Metric System?

I have a project at work where I am converting all our documentation to include measurements in metric. This is incredibly tedious, and has me wondering why are the measurements in the Imperial System in the first place?

When I was in school, I was taught the metric system.  I was told that the US would be going metric soon and I better know what a kilogram was.  I even remember this pro-metric PSA on television. (Yes, I am that old.)

Then it all disappeared.  The signs didn’t change, the grocery stores still sold apples by the pound, and the news still reported the weather in Fahrenheit.  It became like the quadratic equation – something I was taught in school and never used again. What happened?

There are multiple answers:
  • Cost – it’s expensive to convert everything over
  • American Individualism – Americans like being different (and we’re stubborn)
  • The US government didn't make switching over mandatory (like the UK and Canada did)

Even so, a lot has been done. If you check packaging labels, most things are labeled in metric and imperial measures: the speedometer on my car, vitamins, a bottle of coke. I went home and checked, my measuring cup has both systems on it.  

Metric on one side, imperial on the other

I think as the world continues to get smaller, the US is going to have to give in and go completely metric. It’s going to become too expensive and confusing to maintain two systems. It may take a while, but if we can remember the number of pints in a quart and pecks in a bushel, we can figure out a base 10 measurement system.

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