Counting on my fingers

The iPhone is perhaps the ultimate symbol of 21st-century technology. How peculiar then, that the Apple website gives its size in inches and its weight in ounces – units of measurement that the Victorians would have heartily approved of, over a century ago. How odd too, that in the United States, oil is measured in barrels, land in acres and temperature in Fahrenheit.

In Europe we have a more modern system that I want to tell you about. It’s called the metric system and it has some advantages over Imperial measurements. Mainly, you can actually do calculations with it, instead of just ripping out your hair in frustration.

I know that many Americans believe the metric system to be a communist-inspired conspiracy to overturn civilization. And if God had meant us to count in tens, he would surely have given us ten fingers.

I understand your nervousness. Sometimes units of measurement can be politically-inspired tools for control over populations. Like the Euro, for instance, or indeed, most currencies.

But the metric system is innocent. It’s really just a way of measuring. I know that it was introduced by a bunch of murderous lunatics during the French Revolution, but that was a long time ago. Nowadays, the metric system is known as the International System of Units, and is used everywhere, except the US, Liberia and Myanmar.

Like modern Americans, the Victorians were strongly in favour of the Imperial System of measurements. They knew where they were with furlongs, fathoms, knots and chains. They were also in favour of capital punishment, child labour, and strict divisions of social class.

However, the Victorians also supported progress. And that’s why, in Britain at least, we don’t have those things any more, and it’s why we use the metric system.

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21 responses to “Counting on my fingers

  1. Bring back the cubit!

    • The cubit is dead, but the qubit (quantum bit) is coming!

    • I’m with Hariod! Bring back the cubit! The metric system is for sissies!

      (When I wrote my Special Relativity series, I used cubits and (nano-)jiffies as units for distance and time. I also like to measure the speed of light in furlongs per fortnight. Puts the fun back in science! XD )

  2. Hahaha. Thanks, Steve. (Wait! Y’all don’t do “miles” in the UK?)

  3. I can’t fathom why we never went that extra 1.6 kilometers to make the change. As a physics teacher my whole career, I preferred using the metric system. I guess we are a bunch of ‘slugs’.

  4. Oh, yeah? You are so progressive, aren’t you? Why do you, snooty Brits, drive on the wrong side of the road then? 🙂

  5. As a kid, I remember learning the metric system in school in the 70s. It seemed a lot easier than the English system. Everyone said we’d be on it in a few short years. And then nothing. I have no idea what the issue is. I used to think it was Reagan’s fault, but that seems to have no basis in fact. Looking at the Wikipedia on it, apparently lots of people have tried to promote it. It must be lethargy.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metrication_in_the_United_States#20th_century

    But I agree with agrudzinsky. At least we drive on the right side of the road 😀

    • These things take time. In Britain we changed from pounds, shillings and pence to a metric currency in the 70s. For years afterwards, people of my parents’ generation persisted in converting everything back into the old currency. Now they have stopped.

      And while it is true that Americans drive on the right side of the road, it is also true that they drive on the wrong side 🙂

  6. India has transformed itself into metric system mostly. But still many old people still use miles in measuring distance (british colonial effect !) . Also in the rural places and villages in India. Various types of local measuring systems like “Haradari” for distance , “Sheru”, “Balla”, “Kolaga” for measuring milk and other volumes still used.

  7. Thanks Steve for talking some sense into them Americans 😉 Metric system is easier than the Imperial System. And that left-hand drive arrrgggg. Was in LA once and kept going to the left side seat waiting for my friend (the driver) to go to the right side seat. Poor soul would be confused and I would be lost as to why he was at the wrong side staring at me like a nincompoop! My biggest pain point, as a traveler, is finding the right socket to charge my electronic items. Carrying the universal converter is a pain in the neck.

  8. It may be happening in a subversive way. The Diet Mountain Dew I consume by the truckload used to come in 24-ounce plastic bottles. They recently switched. No more 24-ounce bottles; now it’s 16.9-ounce bottles.

    Huh? 16.9?! It’s also 1.05 pint, which is also weird. But it’s 500 ml, nice and even, so my soda pop just went metric.

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