From the moment I decided to take on the task of telling the story of the history of the metric system in the United States, I began to encounter a strange series of positive coincidences.
What does that mean?
I have my theories but first, let’s define coincidence from my favorite source for word definitions and their histories: the Oxford English Dictionary:
A remarkable concurrence of events or circumstances without apparent causal connection.
Keeping that in mind, here’s a streamlined list of things that have happened thus far:
- I had a conversation in December of 2011 with someone about metric conversion and what had happened since we were kids. I’m a writer. I’m naturally curious. I was also told that the metric system was coming as a child (Metric Conversion Act was signed in 1975)—but it didn’t. The conversation in December led me to look up information on what had happened. Once I saw the history on the U.S. Metric Association’s page, it made me very sad and (this is me) embarrassed as an American about where we find ourselves today.
- I started shooting video again at work after a long hiatus where I’d only been using my writing skills. That combined with a viewing of a documentary and things just clicked in my head. I started “seeing” what a documentary on our metric system history might look like in my head. That really got me going.
- Having decided to take this project on, I was already going to Washington, D.C. to meet up with my daughter and visit with friends who live there. So…I made an appointment to meet with a representative of the National Institute for Standards and Technology, who are the keepers of the metric system in the United States, so I could really start on my research. Very helpful. I spent two and a half hours there building my basic knowledge of the subject.
- On my longest leg of the flight to D.C., I sat next to a middle school math teacher and we talked about her experience trying to teach the metric system to students who didn’t feel the metric system was applicable to them. (See recent blog for slightly more on this topic.)
- On my flight back to Albuquerque, I was called up to the airline counter fully expecting to be told there was a problem with my reservation. Instead, I was told I was being upgraded to first class. (Still no idea why.) Drank my first official toast to the project with champagne supplied by American Airlines. Cool.
- Then there’s been a whole slew of people who—immediately upon me mentioning this project—told me that they had just had a conversation with someone (usually within the previous 24 hours) about the metric system and the situation here (rock climbers, nurses, you name it) and why it should change.
- Early on, I ended up with meeting people (Scott Laidlaw and Jennifer Lightwood) who are working to improve math education in our country and have been very supportive of this project (To learn more about their work on this issue, visit their site to learn about their documentary The Biggest Story Problem.)
- I very soon after that met another individual who has been unbelievably helpful in moving this project forward but who has chosen to stay in the background. (You know who you are. Thank you. ;-D)
- More recently, I got word of a legislative effort in Hawaii to convert the state to the metric system (in part due to the international nature of its visitors) and wrote a blog about that. During the interview to get more background, I found out that the state representative who introduced the bill is also the brother-in-law of the director of Los Alamos National Laboratory—where I just happen to have my day job.
- Within the past several months, two major American institutions: the Smithsonian and, more recently, Scientific American have both have blogs on our lack of metric adoption.
- And then, a couple of days ago, I received an email from my contact at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (current keepers of the metric system in this county—Part of the Department of Commerce) letting me know that Discovery News had posted a video about our lack of metric adoption. I believe that is probably why the next day this blog got 330+ pageviews.
I think that’s fairly remarkable and I could go on but you catch my drift. I’m also sure this is just the tip of the iceberg. As I move forward, I expect to encounter more unusual intersections between the project and things around me.
Hopefully, the movement currently taking place (including this project) will help get this situation on more peoples’ radar. In this country, metric adoption became a non-issue 30 years ago when we disbanded the U.S. Metric Board. That’s a terrible shame as far as I’m concerned—and I’m not even a numbers person.
As if that wasn’t enough, take a look at my statistics (see above)…the vast majority of people who come to this site do so because they’re actively looking for information on why the United States is still not using the metric system.
Perhaps that is a coincidence. Perhaps not. Only time will tell.
* The title of this week’s blog is a takeoff of the title of the children’s book (and movie) Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.