Editorial: Inching toward the centimeter: why the US should metricate


Sarah Ju, Editor-in-Chief

As a child, my father would often iterate to me his pure, unadulterated admiration for the United States of America. Of course, he would hold the place he met my mother and offered him a myriad of experiences and opportunities dear to his heart. And much like how I learned at school that the mitochondria was the powerhouse of the cell, at home, he described to me that the US was the powerhouse of the world. I kept this mirage of the States throughout my childhood and well into my teenage years. Encapsulated and simultaneously epitomized by the essence of Hollywood, the Times Square Ball Drop, and all the glamorous stuff of rom com films, the US was perfect

But as time passed, I could sense my father becoming increasingly disappointed in what was once the land of the American Dream, and I was no different. While the nation took pride in its culture and international influence, and I took pride in being a part of it, it occurred to me that it was a land overswept by shortsighted pride and nationalism even while experiencing a multitude of problems domestically. 

Aside from all the glaring issues such as the political polarization and impossible wealth gap, one problem that I saw being overlooked was actually seemingly trivial: the inefficiencies of imperial units of measurement. Albeit being such a small thing to scrutinize, the years upon years of having to hear about all its faults made me rack my brain. For a country so allegedly advanced and commendable in the eyes of the global community, why hasn’t it already abandoned the outdated and inefficient imperial system altogether? 

On December 11, 1998, NASA launched the Mars Climate Orbiter, but within the primary stages of its venture into outer space, the spacecraft was destroyed. Surprisingly, it was later revealed that the sole reason for its decimation was that while NASA had been using the more conventional metric system for measuring crucial data points, their contractor had been using the imperial system. Because of the failure to translate between units, the probe faced a large navigation error and wound up fatally close to the Martian surface, ultimately crashing and rendering the project a fruitless endeavor. The foolish accident cost NASA $125 million.

Besides these occasional catastrophic instances, the imperial system itself is simply utterly inefficient. The necessity to convert all of its units to the metric system for the sake of consistency between measurement systems, how the relationship between inches and feet are in arbitrary units of 12 while the metric system grows in clear units of 100—all of these factors point to a confusing and unnecessary system. Not to mention, a yard should merely be an expanse of land; a foot should merely be a body part. What’s up with pounds and its lbs, ounces and its ozs?

It pains me to think that elementary school students are probably sitting with their parents at their kitchen table struggling to figure all this out for homework when a clear alternative already exists. 

Shouldn’t we be past this by now?

Unlike the outright confusing nature of the imperial system, the metric system is consistent and coherent due to its decimal-based system. It is used in most nations across the world, while the latter is only prevalent in three countries: the US, Liberia, and Myanmar. If the US is supposedly so great and mighty, why does it only share its futile system with two other nations?

In my eyes, the only plausible reason for this is foolish pride. In clinging to its somewhat “unique” but deficient system, the United States is nothing more than a nation with an individuality complex—the so-called “pick me girl” of the globe. Sure, blame the British for bringing the system into America. But they have already moved on and abandoned their senseless system, the United Kingdom officially becoming a metric country in 1965. By refusing to move on, the nation of the star spangled banner leaves itself behind in the eyes of the international community.

It is only a matter of time before this over-reliance on a confusing and inefficient system becomes the catalyst for international descent into chaos. Okay, perhaps that’s an overstatement. Still, we must consider the potential detrimental effects the continuance of the system brings to the table, costing time, effort, and money. Without transforming the shortcomings of American systems, albeit potentially meaningless, Though the metrication process is only a miniscule first step in mending the issues that riddle the nation, if apathetic policymakers stand back and refuse to make a change, it will inevitably go to show that the United States is definitely not well-equipped enough to handle any larger domestic challenges that come its way. Bearing the role of a leader of the international community post-WWII, the US has the responsibility to avoid being reflected poorly in the global eye, especially when it comes to their stubborn attitudes.

The little girl in me who once gasped starry-eyed at the land of the free is nothing short of very disappointed at the nation’s stark reality. For the sake of salvaging her once-held dream, the US ought to take this small step toward metrication in swallowing its pride for the first time and inching itself closer to the international community. It can do better. One centimeter at a time.