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.