Have you ever looked at the back of a food item or drink to check nutritional values? Everything on the label is measured in the metric system. Do you actually know how much sugar you are getting? Or how much of a certain medication you can safely take? Have you ever thought that there should be ten inches in a foot, ten feet in a yard? A system with a standard that makes sense. Well you’re in luck with the metric system. The English Imperial system may be more familiar and comfortable for Americans, but it is still confusing to them because it has no standard.
There are twelve inches in a foot, three feet in a yard, 5,280 feet in a mile. This is a system based on arbitrary rules, rules which make conversion of units clumsy and awkward for its users. Have you ever had to Google how many fluid ounces are in a cup when cooking? Or stop to do math in your mind to determine how much you’ll pay to put in new flooring in a room when you know its square footage but the materials are sold per square yard? I am sure that I’m not the only person that has a conversion app on their phone for just such occasions.
As if our confusing system weren’t enough on its own, we are surrounded by sort of a dual system. The metric system reigns in science, business (for international trade), and the military, because it is both more precise and necessary for our interactions with other industrialized nations. Besides international interaction, this dual system is also partially the result of a government push in 1975 to switch over to the metric system, as we are one of three countries (including Liberia and Myanmar) that do not use it officially.
Originally intended to be a ten year effort to make the change, it was abandoned in 1982 when it was clear that Americans were apathetic and resistant to the change. We still see vestiges of this attempted change around us: one example being the speedometers in your cars which show both miles and kilometers per hour. The dual system complicates matters even more. Already we have in use a system that is illogical and confusing, and despite the metric system being introduced to children in elementary school, because it is not used in the ay-to-day for many people, when we encounter it we are at a loss. While eating food you may make the mistake of not knowing how much of a particular ingredient you are actually consuming. A 20 fl oz. soda, for instance, has around sixty-nine grams of sugar in it; do you as an American know how much that really is? It is more than double the recommended amount you should consume in one day. But what does this mean? Many Americans have no idea what to convert metric units into when it comes up. Is the sixty-nine grams of sugar in your bottle of soda comparable to ounces or teaspoons?
As a result, we live in a world where we use an arbitrary, complicated system that doesn’t make much sense, but also occasionally come into contact with a logical, standardized system that we are unfamiliar with. We understand both poorly, but it doesn’t have to be this way. We can fix this problem in one of two ways. We can re-attempt a gradual change over a set amount of time, as we tried to do in 1975. We have the benefit of having that attempt to study, to determine what measures yielded successes and what measures were met with the most resistance, and plan accordingly.
With more people working in fields with higher exposure to the metric system now than in the 70’s and 80’s, we may have more success. Another idea is the pick a year to make the change, raise awareness, and just make the switch cold turkey. After that year, the English Imperial system would no longer be taught in schools, completely replacing the metric system. As with learning a new language, total immersion is most often the most effective way. Americans would learn the metric system because they had to, and since it is ultimately an easier system, it would stick.
If there is one thing we can learn from the response to our government’s attempt to “go metric” back in 1975, it is that the American people will not make this change unless they clearly understand the benefits of such a change, and want to. We need to continue to support and insist on metric system education in school for our children, and let our representatives know that the time is right for America to join the rest of the world in using a system of measurement that is more precise, easier to use, and used everywhere.
The English Imperial system of measurement is confusing and arbitrary, as well as being completely out-dated in terms of global use, and it is beyond time for us to make a change to the metric system. We need to support use of the metric system wherever we can, and lobby for a change. Besides, I know it would sound a lot better to say that I only weight ninety-five kilograms rather than admit to weighing 210 pounds.