Posted by: Chelsea Novak | December 10, 2002

8 days a week

Mike’s most recent post about the trouble with dates has made me realize how European my approach to measurment and dates has become. (Was that a sentence?) I don’t even think about date formatting anymore. Clearly it’s DD/MM/YYYY. When it’s a standard across an entire continent and a big part of the world, numbers before 13 are a breeze to sort out for accounting and pretty much everything else.

I’m also starting to think in metric. Living on the US/Canadian boarder for most of my life, I existed in this strange metric/imperial hybrid. Distance is in kilometers, weight and height is in prounds and inches, temperature is in celcius, volume is in litres and tools are in imperial. Living in Europe for 2 and 1/2 years, I’ve had to give up on the bits of imperial I knew and translate my brain fully into metric. I still know what it means when someone says “I’m 5’8″ and I weigh 140 pounds.” but if someone were to ask me how tall I am, I think “I’m 180 cm” before I think “I’m 5’11”.” (I know it says I’m 183 cm on my driver’s license, but when I went to get it I was totally convinced that I was 6 feet tall. I’m not. I’ve accepted that. And no, I’m not going to write down how much I weigh).

I can generally switch between imperial and metric measurements if I know I’m speaking to Americans, but as sson as someone says “It’s like 90 degrees out today.” all I can think is that it’s about 10 degrees away from water boiling and how on earth are people suriving in that heat.

Measurements are not absolute. They are definitions we give to things in order to communicate about them. If we’d decided that we were going to measure weight in frogs and we all agreed on the measure of weight as frogs, then that could work. It wouldn’t be so precise, but the point is that a system of measurement works because we agree that it works. Hundreds of years ago systems of measurement varied from town to town, which meant that trade between towns involved a lot of math.

So it is true that we could use any form of measurement, so long as we all agreed, but my vote is for the metric system. Why? Having learned both major systems of measurement, I think that metric is more straightforward, dealing in units of 10, which I find simpler than dealing in units of 12 and like Mike said, most of the world is already using it. Even the British, who are the founding fathers of the imperial system, are converting to metric as part of their membership in the EU. This doesn’t meant that everyone thinks and speaks in metric, but they will in time. My parents, who grew up learning the Imperial system, still talk about temperature in those strange farenheit terms sometimes.

Anyway, go metric. It makes trade easier. Trade is good.



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