You know, I’m very, very much not a math person. In fact, that’s quite the understatement. I actually always have sucked hard at math. But while piddling around with learning Blender 3D tonight in trying to model my house it occured to me: the metric systems makes a heck of a lot more sense than what we’re used to in the United States! I mean, metric has always seemed like it made more sense than Imperial, but it’s not something that most people really care about. Blender has a simple measurement model: 1 unit is whatever the heck you want it to equal. So after spending considerable time converting from feet and inches to inches and making note that 1 inch is equal to .01 unit in Blender it occured to me that life would be so much easier had I just done everything in meters from the start. 1 Blender Unit = 1 Meter, and everything degrades gracefully because it’s remarkably easy to convert.
So why hasn’t the United States switched to metric yet? There was a half-hearted attempt in the ’70′s which failed miserably. I guess some people think that converting to metric constitutes being unpatriotic, giving up something distinctly American, and scandalously embracing heathen, Unchristian enemies in a New World Order. Either that, or it’s too expensive.
Well, the most obvious thing to note is that our system isn’t American at all. It’s British, and they abandoned it because it didn’t make sense. Another thing to note is that in all the countries in the world, only the United States, Liberia, and Myanmar (Burma) haven’t adopted the metric system. We’re keeping some bad company there. Besides, the rest of the scientific and mathematics community seem to have moved on to the metric system, including NASA. All of the competitive world trade and all international industry is conducted in metric. So really, by not switching now, we’re reducing Americans’ competitiveness in the world, not enhancing it by being superior and different. And has anyone noticed that 20 years ago America had the biggest everything? Now (taking my references from “The Post-American World“) the tallest building in the world, the largest company in the world, the largest refinery in the world, the largest passenger airplane, the largest ferris wheel in the world, the largest casino in the world, and the largest mall in the world are all outside of the United States. By stubbornly thinking that we stand alone, by not educating the American people on the system that everyone else is using, we’re hurting our competitiveness and stance in the world, not helping it.
So finance is a big one. Since the math and science communities have already switched over, the biggest areas where I see measurements in a consumer’s daily life are: construction, weather, and road signage. Construction seems to have partially taken the plunge, and I’m sure there exist tools to make conversions easier for workers, and if not, it wouldn’t take them long to adjust to this in their daily habits. Weather is easy. Weather is something that’s constantly updated, so it’s just a simple matter of changing what you’re publishing. Road signage is probably the most expensive thing, but other countries (countries that successfully metrified themselves) found that a cold turkey solution was much better than maintaining a dual system. Instead of replacing all the signs, why not just put stickers with new numbers over the existing signs, and then replace them as needed with fully metric signs? Seems to work, and relatively inexpensive. Of course, you’re always going to have the toothless hick that sees a sign that says the speed limit is 90 and revs his Bubba-mobile up to 90 miles per hour.
All that said, I’ve found a couple of ways to do my part to get more comfortable with metric (it’s officially supported in the United States, after all, just not common). First, is to change the settings on my computer to Metric. I’m not sure what settings OS X has that would make a difference one way or the other, but I suppose I’ll find out. I’ve also switched the weather on my computer to report in Celcius, not hard. I’ll also probably quickly rescale my house in Blender to be metric based… which will save me a lot of headache I’m sure.
Not that I intend to become an advocate or anything, but some useful sites to help promote awareness of the issue are Go Metric! and the US Metric Association.