Will 2013 be the year the metric system takes hold in the United States?

metric-systemThe short answer is – NO!  We’ve all seen this movie many times haven’t we? I was thinking about this yesterday as I plan a trip overseas for early 2013. Every time I visit another country that has the metric system (seemingly ALL of them) the disadvantage that Americans face when traveling is palpable as well as being a pain in the neck. When I was a kid growing up in the 1960’s and 1970’s schools were teaching the metric system with the idea that the U.S. would adopt the metric system since it was used all over the world. In fact today, Americans are part of a very exclusive club – along with Liberia and Myanmar as the only countries not fully adopting the metric system (the UK is more metric than it isn’t so I did not include it).

The United States has recognized the metric system for more than 145 years. In fact in 1971 there was a plan to transition the U.S. to the metric system over the course of ten years. That obviously did not happen. Why? It turns out there are a number of reasons. If you are interested there is an article worth reading on How Stuff Works – that describes the history of why the U.S. isn’t on the metric system.

Since I travel a good deal I still have to keep in mind that a meter is roughly 39.37 inches, a kilogram is roughly 2.2 pounds, and a kilometer is .62 miles and to convert from Fahrenheit to Celsius (centigrade) you subtract 32 and multiply by 5/9 or .55. Celsius back to Fahrenheit is easy – 9/5 (or 1.8) x Celsius plus 32. I do these calculations in my head and it makes my head hurt. 72 degrees F is 22C. Since American performance in math and sciences has been declining in relation to a number of countries it amazes me that a protocol of mental gymnastics is required when Americans travel overseas.

Changing to the metric system costs money. This is probably the number one reason it has not yet occurred. That Americans are stubborn (we Americans prefer to use the term fiercely independent) is no secret to countries around the world. The U.S. Congress failure to make adoption of the metric system mandatory is the other primary reason.

As the world moves into the ‘global economy’, the U.S. has more motivation than ever to make the move. That the metric system is easier to use (i.e. better) is indisputable. At least when it comes to sports the metric system has infiltrated the American mindset – track and field and swimming are good examples of how the transition has been made. To say that adoption of the metric system by the United States is long overdue would be the understatement of the century. (repeated)

In the meantime Americans traveling abroad as well as doing business will have to continue to have to calculate things like temperature – is 13 degrees Celsius cold or warm? (Neither, it’s 55 degrees F) Distance – 142 KM is how far? (229 miles). I’m betting the world is saying with a snicker – ‘Good luck with that’.

About markkolier

Futurist, entrepreneur, left lane driver
This entry was posted in Communication and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Will 2013 be the year the metric system takes hold in the United States?

  1. I guess runners are further along than the rest of the US. Everyone runs 5K races!! Good for the x-c folks. They ran to adopt!! Thanks Mark.

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