I went to see Eddie Izzard the other night. It was a very funny show. He did one bit about how Myanmar, Liberia and the U.S. are the only countries that haven’t converted to the Metric System. It was a funny bit. And it got me thinking. Personally, I’m glad there are three countries that haven’t switched. I’m not just saying that as a U.S. citizen who is used to a different system. I have actual reasons.
The first reason I like our system better than the metric system is because the units are related to actual human things. A foot is about the size of a person’s foot. A yard is about the size of a person’s waist. A mile is about a thousand paces (two thousand steps). An acre is about the amount of land a team of oxen can till in one day. These are all things that I know (except the oxen) and can grasp intuitively. This makes it much more useful for my day to day uses than the meter (which is either the one minute angle of the Earth’s median arc or the standard wavelength of krypton-86 emissions, neither of which does me any good).
The next reason I don’t like the metric system is because that whole, “The math is easier because everything is based on 10,” thing is just silly. Yes, it makes it easier to convert centimeters to meters than inches to yards. But, unit conversion isn’t that important. If you drop a bowling ball and want to know how fast it is going after six seconds, 9.80665 m/s2 isn’t any easier than 32.174 ft/s2. Unless you happen to be measuring the standard wavelength of Krypton-86 emissions, the math isn’t going to be any easier with the metric system.
Now, I do realize having a standard system for science and commerce is beneficial. And if they like using the metric system, that’s fine. But it isn’t a good reason to force everyone to use the metric system all the time. And I’m not saying that everyone should switch to my system either. Systems of weights and measures are like languages. They teach us about the people who use them. The fact that acres come from oxen plowing fields tells us about our history. The fact that a yard is a little bigger than most people’s waists lets us know that most of our kings were on the chubby side. I would love to see a world where forest dwellers measure height based on a certain tree species and desert dwellers measure distance based on how far a camel walks in an hour. All this standardization has made us boring.