The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Friday January 22nd

Imperial system outdated, confusing

America today is all about efficiency — faster cars, faster Internet connection, faster food — and I think this is something that, considering how our society works, fits us quite well.

Time is money, and America loves money, and with more time, of course, follows more money. Speed rules the day, and for our purposes it all adds up.

Our society as a whole craves new, constantly advancing technology that will make our lives run more smoothly. And we buy accordingly.

It makes sense to make our products better, simpler and safer to operate. But efficiency transcends the physical qualities of the products themselves; it also encompasses the ability to communicate easily, to make transactions fluidly.

And this level of communication is the point at which America’s understanding begins to deteriorate.

In my travels, I have noticed one particular factor that harms our efficiency and our reputation in the world’s view, a factor that no one this side of the pond ever pays attention to. We are one of three countries in the entire world that does not adhere to the metric system (the other two being Myanmar and Liberia).

As citizens in the United States, we seldom notice this problem.

You’re probably shrugging your shoulders right now, a quizzical frown plastered on your face. Why should I care? It works for me, so why change it? What’s the big deal?

My first response would be this: You are right, it is not that big of a deal.

In fact, it is at the base level a very small problem, and it would take minimal effort to solve it.

But if anything, America’s almost-exclusive system makes our own measurements — not to mention buying groceries in a foreign country — unnecessarily difficult. We are just used to the more difficult way by now.

The metric system’s different units are divided in powers of 10. For those of you who don’t like to do complicated math in your head (using numbers like 12 inches in a foot, 16 ounces in a pound, 5,280 feet in a mile, and so on), the metric system is much easier.

Whether in meters for length, grams for weight or liters for capacity, you simply use different prefixes for each power of 10. It’s as simple as that, and it is the same for every unit of measurement.

Aside from the math, it makes sense to switch because if and when an American enters virtually any other country on the planet, they have to work twice as hard to understand every single time they want to determine anything measurable — distance, weight or temperature.

The Europeans I have spoken to on the subject just shook their heads and asked me why America wouldn’t change.

The only answer I could come up with was this: It’s a non-issue in America.

The metric system is not only easier than ours, but essentially no one else in the world adheres to our system.

I’m not asking for a drastic change, just bringing a little-discussed issue to light. This is a change that would best come gradually, but it should not be ignored like it is today.

In a nation that is all about efficiency, it seems that in this regard we are sluggish and far behind the rest of the world.

Tim Freer is a junior journalism major from Asheville, studying abroad in England. Contact Tim at

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