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Metric System// yes or no

WHY CHANGE WHAT WORKS // Matt Kriese

The United States of America is perhaps the only nation on the planet that possesses a system of measurement that supports our own conception of exceptionalism. It doesn’t need to go any where. 

In the eyes of many Americans, the US is a special place; undoubtedly more special than any other country on Earth. If that claim is true, it would make sense that there exists a means of measurement within this nation that further separates it from the rest of the globe and puts the US on a higher pedestal.

The go-to argument for making America metric is that “the rest of the world follows this system; why shouldn’t we?” The easiest counterpoint to that is the age-old battle cry of worried parents; if one’s friends all jumped off a bridge, it would be ridiculous to base one’s own decision off theirs. There is legitimate merit in this philosophy. The argument that the metric system is better than what the US currently uses just based on global popularity provides no information on why the metric system should be brought over here or why the current system is failing in the first place. The argument must go deeper.

While it is convenient that the metric system is based off increments of 10, this fact alone does not automatically solve issues regarding the nuances of measurement. Is it really better to refer to a sandwich at a popular restaurant chain as being a ‘30.48 centimeters long’ as opposed to a ‘footlong?’ Or perhaps an ‘almost a third of a meter long with banana peppers and swiss’ would suffice?

The simple fact of the matter is the system currently employed in the US functions well, given the oddly specific parameters of this nation’s culture. The nitty-gritty side of measurement would not be solved by a societal shift towards the metric, on the contrary they would be enhanced. A kilometer is just as difficult (if not more) for an individual to comprehend as a mile, and so are the subsets of measurement within these particular measurements.

It makes no sense to move towards metric. Keep it weird, Americans.

PRECISE, ACCURATE, UNDERSTANDABLE // Mia Dorsey

Americans are known for excessive pride in the systems they have created, whether or not those systems prove to be functional.

And while that is a valid feeling, nationalism can’t overrule practicality. The most notable example of America’s nationalism disregarding practicality is the use of the United States Customary Units (USC) instead of the more appropriate International System of Units (SI).

After fiddling with the former British system of measurement known as the Imperial System, the USC was born. This system was created to be human-centered, with the inch roughly being the length of a human thumb and the foot amounting to an average human foot. However, with finger lengths and shoe sizes differing from person to person, this system now consists of a bunch of seemingly random numbers equaling different units.

The SI, on the other hand, was created with precision, using a base 10 that makes it easy to convert between SI units. The system also features Latin prefixes such as cent- and kilo-, so users can easily convert between SI units without a cheat sheet. This system’s excellence was so heavily noticed, that it is used by the majority of the world’s population.

Most of Americans don’t even think about switching the system of measurement because it does not directly affect them. But this is not necessarily the case. According to a Los Angeles Times article from 1999, a NASA Mars orbiter was lost and destroyed because of a simple mistake in conversion between the two systems. Two labs overlooked an avoidable error, ultimately leading to the failure of a $125 million project. Seeing as NASA is federal agency, that money came right out of American tax dollars.

Change may be hard at first, but in the long run, the switch to SI would lessen absurd conversions and confusion between countries. So why not permanently adopt a more precisely constructed system that high schoolers have to learn anyway?

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