And the Winner Is: Results of the American Culture/Metric System Poll

I could write almost endlessly about how to interpret the results of the metric system and our American culture poll but while I’m not a woman of few words, I do like to cut to the chase. To be clear, I knew going in that the results of the poll would be unscientific. However, I did ask questions that could reveal information that might be useful to me moving forward with the project.

I thank all of you who took time to respond and help get the word out on the poll. I greatly appreciate what you had to say.

1) Most of the people who responded to the poll already use the metric system. (66 percent)

Current use

This did not surprise me. Most people in this country have totally lost sight of the metric system so a poll on a subject would most likely interest those who already use it. And, as I’ve observed in the past, this blog has a large international following so that was reflected in the responses. What was heartening to see was that of those who don’t currently use the metric system, a majority thought it would be easy to learn. And right they are—if one is open to learning it. I applaud their adaptability, it’s a quality much needed in today’s world.

This leads the second thing I learned/confirmed with the poll…

2) By a 2 to 1 margin, it was thought resistance to the metric system was more laziness than due to potential problems conversion itself might cause. (26 percent versus 13 percent)

Why don't we use the metric system?

Okay, I’ll admit that the word choice for the most popular suggestion was somewhat loaded. I could have phrased it more gently but I think it somewhat gets to the heart of the matter. (I’m certainly lazy in some ways.)  Plus, if people didn’t like any of the answers I supplied, they were free to write in their own through the “other” category I included with all of the questions. And, in the interest of full disclosure, since it appears readers can’t view the write-ins (first time I’ve used this poll tool), all of them are at the bottom of this post for your inspection.

The answer to the other question in the poll is somewhat more problematic.

3) Almost half who responded to the poll indicated metric adoption would need to be forced, either through federal mandate (24 percent) or removal of U.S. customary units from products sold in this country (23 percent).

What it would take to adopt

Here’s what’s problematic about this: federal mandate is a viable, real-world option but I’m not sure how the second selection could be adopted as a practical matter. Sure, the federal government could require the removal of customary units (but that would be the equivalent of federal mandate) but short of that, removal of non-metric units would have to be voluntary. Some companies would like to go in that direction—but others would likely need to be forced by consumers—to get to the 100 percent mark.  Since the second option excludes government requirement that would take quite a forceful groundswell. Could happen, but unlikely—too much work. Still, I wanted to get a sense of whether people thought that approach could work, and they think it has potential.

Those are the surface findings. You are free to consider the data yourself and comment on it. After you look at the write-ins below (and look at the full responses in my previous post), you’ll have access to all the same information I do.

Speaking of write-ins, I want to highlight one of them that shows what this movement is up against. This is verbatim except for the quotation marks:

why to change it if the old one worked good so far?

I can only hope that was a joke.

Linda

Write-ins

Question on why Americans don’t use the metric system
– American exceptionalism
– Misguided legislative priorities
– It would be really expensive to change it. (Ie. Signs, teaching, books.)
– The advantages aren’t worth upfront cost, in money and inconvenience, to switch
– Fear of change.
– It was promised that we’d be using SI within a decade, but Govt did nothing
– The change is not Something that us required to improve
– non-metric habits
– republicans
– Structure of American Government
– It hasn’t been forced on us
– All of the above
– DON’T LIKE CHANGE
– it works- we have always done it this way.
– There is no “burning platform” to change
– Fear
– US Congress would not agree, because of big business influance and pressure.
– why to change it if the old one worked good so far?
– Arrogance!
– Lack of strong leadership that understands the implications of not changing
– Lack of metric education in the schools, Americans don’t understand it is easy.
– Education was too stuck on teaching conversion factors , not how to use metric.

Question on what it would take for Americans to adopt the metric system
– Complete decimation of the economy at the same time the metric world is growing.
– Repeal all regulations relating to units of measure
– get rid of republicans
– It has to be necassary
– It’s already happening; just look at the selection at Home Depot. No rush!
– nothing I can think ot
– Stop teaching STEM classes in English units
– Economic incentives
– Heavier teaching in grade school
– Convert American football to metric

Question on current use or difficulty to learn
– I already use it (i’m a scientist)
– I’m a physicist. I use it every day. But 14,000′ peaks are better that way.
– I know it well, but it would take a while to feel comfortable.
– I use the metric system at work

What’s In a Name: Metric System or SI?

When I embarked on this project I started learning lots of things, including that while we here in the United States use the term “metric system,” to designate the decimalized system used by the rest of the world—the rest of the world uses “SI” which in English is short for International System of Units. “What?” I hear you say. Then why isn’t it “ISU”? Well, it originated in France and the French version is “Le Système international d’unités” which they shorted to SI and that’s what used throughout most of the rest of the world.

So, I was faced with the conundrum: do I use our traditional “metric system” phraseology as I continually reference it or the more internationally accepted “SI” to help people here get familiar with it? Let’s face it, we’ve used the phrase “metric system” in this country for a long time (way before our last big metric push in 1975 with the Metric Conversion Act) so that’s how most people refer to it here—when they refer to it at all.

So here are my thoughts on the subject: for the sake of moving metric adoption forward, let’s go ahead and use the phrase “metric system” since most people here at least know what that refers to. People with experience in other countries (whether as natives or visitors) can use SI if that’s their preferred terminology. The more worldly among us and “early adopters” will most likely use the SI moniker as well.

As long as the two names can be used together when it makes sense and there is space to do so (as in “Metric System/SI”) let’s go ahead and do that so people can get them connected in their minds. After a while, maybe we’ll move over to SI exclusively or maybe we won’t. FRANKLY I DON’T THINK IT’S THAT IMPORTANT.

What IS important is that we use the system itself, not what we call it. After all, our base metric unit of money (remember the 100 pennies and 10 dimes it contains) is referred to as both a “dollar” and a “buck” and nobody gets their undies in a bundle about that. The two exist side by side and it only causes some slight confusion to the outsider. The same can be said of the United Kingdom’s parallel of the “pound” and “quid.”

Now let me clarify a bit more. When I say it doesn’t matter what we call it—I mean in a choice between the terms metric system or SI. I’ve seen some suggestions lately that concern themselves with making a distinction between the metric system and “metrics,” used in the sense of “performance metrics” or “performance measurements” or altering “metric system” to make it more palatable to the public. While I believe those offering alternatives are well meaning, I think the use of an entirely new or altered term would just muddy the waters and there are much better ways to leverage our pro-metric resources than get into a debate about new terminology.

I work in the communications field and while other occupational/organizational designations can get tangled up in things (telecommunications immediately comes to mind) I never have the slightest doubt if something I’m looking at relates to interpersonal or machine-to-machine communication. Yeah, it would be nice if I could plug “communications” into a search engine and not pull up information that doesn’t relate to my intended search but I could accomplish the same goal using a modifier such as “interpersonal,” “organizational” or “written.”

In fact, to back up my assertion, I just did two searches: one for “metric system” (and it needs to be bounded by the quotation marks so the search engine looks for that exact phase and not rough equivalents) and the first page (didn’t look beyond that) only related to “the” metric system. A search for “metrics” (again, the quotation marks are needed) and it only brought up information about performance metrics. So, I don’t think we need a new name for the metric system; I think we just need more people who understand how quotation marks work in search engines so people find what they are looking for.

As to making it more acceptable to the public by altering its name, I think that’s missing the point. We fundamentally want people to adopt the metric system itself, not what we call it. We’re not going to trick people into liking something they didn’t before by changing its name. Take a moment to imagine a food that you hate the most and ask yourself if you’d like it better if it had a different name. I think not. So, let’s just move forward and let the metric system and SI live peacefully side by side and work on what I consider some more fundamental issues.

That’s my current position and I don’t mean anyone any disrespect but metric implementation is going to be challenging enough without introducing confusion for the people we’re trying to enlist to our cause.

Those with opinions on the subject (for or against) can weigh in (in kilograms of course) in the comments section providing they abide by my earlier guidelines.

Thanks for getting all the way to the bottom of this post.

Linda

How I Feel About Comments On My Blog

Three words: I love them.

This blog is all about my thoughts and opinions regarding my project and the adoption of the metric system in the United States. I’m happy to share those thoughts with anyone who might care to read this blog. Hopefully, I’m occasionally interesting or informative.

I’m also happy to hear what other people have to say for several reasons:

1) I’m one person. As broadminded as I try to be, I can’t anticipate everyone’s opinions and it’s only if I listen to their thoughts that I can take them into account as I move forward.

2) I learn new, relevant information. As much as I have learned about the metric system and its history there is always more out there. I hope to continue to absorb and incorporate new information into the project until such time as it is no longer possible. The project itself has an end date but who knows what will happen after that. Too soon to tell.

3) They give you, the reader, an opportunity to hear perspectives other than mine. Unfortunately, you have to click on the comments section to view them. I hope you take an opportunity to view them if you have the time.

4) Yeah, I can view stats for this blog and see how many people have looked at it and how many pages they saw. While interesting, that’s pretty dry stuff. By reading comments I get to know about the other people who are out there and who are interested in this topic and what’s on their minds. It also supplies more of a chance for dialogue. That’s always a good thing as long as both people are listening.

5) It means I’ve engaged you at some level. When I make presentations, I always hope for a question. I don’t even care if it is a negative question. Just one question means that everything I’ve said didn’t just go in one ear and out the other. If you post a comment, I feel the same way, like I’m not talking into thin air. Thanks!

Approvals

I get to approve comments for this blog and it will be my policy to approve all of them unless they’re spam, libelous, downright offensive or have some other major issue. Comments don’t have to agree with my perspectives but they need to be courteous.

Response to comments

I read somewhere that blog posters should respond to their comments. Well, if I respond to all of them, it would feel like I have to get the last word in. That’s not how I feel at all. I will—and have—let comments stand on their own. It’s not that I don’t care but I don’t feel like I always have to insert myself.

I did respond to one comment when the person continually used “we” throughout his remarks. I tried to point out (nicely) that if by “we” he meant Americans, that I am one so he shouldn’t assume that I was an outsider and I let him know that as one of the “we” he referenced he didn’t include my opinions.

So, if you want to post, have the guts to say “I” unless you are a bona fide representative of a larger organization. Otherwise, you’re just making assertions that your views are held by a wider audience. They might be but unless ordained, don’t pretend you represent those folks.

I am happy that I’m coming in contact with likeminded people through this blog and it helps encourage me to continue on this path. I do have a full-time day job as a writer and organizational communication specialist so this really is labor of love and an effort to help us move us forward on this important issue.

That said, I fully recognize that I “stand on the shoulders of giants” and I’m thankful for all of the other people who are devoting their time and energy to this issue as well. Where I come from, (a national science laboratory) the phrase of “critical mass” means something very specific in the physics arena. In this case, I’m hoping a critical mass of us can move the trajectory of an entire country in a more positive direction. And from what I can tell, the right people seem to be coalescing around this important issue. That’s a very positive sign.

Thanks for your continued interest as I move along this path.

Linda