When I was a child growing up in the 1960’s, my dad had a Volkswagen Beetle. In those days, just about everybody did. But there was something different about our particular “Bug.” It was a European-spec model with a Metric odometer and speedometer, so by the time I was just 5 years old; I already knew the difference between a mile and a kilometer. It was quite amusing to watch my friends who occasionally rode somewhere with my dad and I gasp in astonishment as they would see the needle resting on 100 when we were actually cruising down the highway at a more modest 62 mph.
A few years passed, and the science teachers in grade schools began familiarizing us with liters, grams, meters, and what was then known as the Centigrade temperature scale. Collectively, these were the units of measurement employed by the Metric System. They were trying to prepare us for what was believed to be the inevitable: a U.S. conversion to Metric measurements. It was predicted that this would happen sometime in the 1970’s. Our neighbors to the north in Canada switched in 1977, but those of us who pledged allegiance to the Red, White, and Blue stubbornly held onto our archaic English system. Over 30 years have passed since then, and our minimal progress can be seen on plastic bottles of soda, but that’s about it. And that’s a shame.
Why haven’t we embraced the Metric System as planned? It has been employed in the fields of science and medicine for decades. Here’s part of the answer: Older people are decidedly resistant to change. Like a comfortable shoe, the concept of gallons, quarts, pints, and cups refuses to give way to liters. When we wish to find the weight of something, pounds and ounces have become second nature.
“Kilograms? What’s that?” my mother would ask.
“Inches, feet, yards. It’s what we’ve known forever,” so say our elders.
“Water freezes at 32 and boils at 212. Everyone knows that,” they argue.
They simply cannot fathom the fact that the Metric System is far easier to use. Everything is divisible or multiplied by factors of 10. How less complicated can it get? In our English system, the factors jump all over the place: 16 ounces = 1 pound, 2 pints = 1 quart, 4 quarts = 1 gallon, 12 inches = 1 foot, 3 feet = 1 yard, 5280 feet = 1 mile. Why do we insist on remembering all of this when the Metric System uses a far more sensible approach?
Converting English measurements to Metric equivalents (or vice versa) is the most difficult task; and in that respect, those who remain set in their ways are somewhat justified. In order for the United States to switch over to this system, it will only succeed when we are all willing to discard the old units of measurement altogether. We would have to stop thinking about quarts and start thinking about liters. We would have to think of hot summer days as being in the 30’s instead of the 90’s. When we step on scales, we would have to think in kilograms. We would have to forget that inches ever existed and change our linear units to centimeters. In time, even the most stubborn would adapt. Case in point: Look at how many individuals fought with computers (myself included) as they came into vogue. Now, for all but very few, we find it hard to imagine how we got along without them.
While there are indeed many changes that have occurred within our society that are questionable and at times downright ridiculous, a full-scale nationwide adoption of the Metric System makes good sense. Nearly the entire world already favors it, so it is all but universal. Why not catch up in this respect with the rest of our planet’s inhabitants? Anything that holds the potential of making our lives easier without negative consequences should be warmly embraced.
The time is far overdue for our country to go Metric. Is it not rather pretentious to soldier on with an archaic, outdated sytem of measuring volume, length, weight, and temperatures simply because we can? With everyone on the same page, the world would become a less-confusing place. Wouldn’t you agree?
Above all, the logic employed by the Metric System is indisputable.