PRACTICAL VIEW : Metrics Just Don't Measure Up

Remember metrics?

In the 1970s and '80s, there was a big push to adopt the system of measurement based on the powers of 10. Distances appeared in kilometers and miles on highway signs, wine and soft drinks were sold in liters, and many industries adopted metrics.

In 1988, Congress designated 1992 as the year the government would "go metric," but today the United States is the only industrialized nation that has not adopted the metric system, according to the Smithsonian Institution.

Resistance is strong. Borrowing 236.5 milliliters (instead of a cup) of sugar just doesn't sit right.

Everyday measurements become hard to fathom--377 miles seems closer than the 603-kilometer distance to San Francisco. But, in our weight-conscious culture, 58.5 kilograms sounds much better than 130 pounds.

Metrics have taken hold in some circles, however. Science and medicine use metrics. Mountain climbers talk longingly of 8,000-meter peaks, and any DEA agent or drug dealer can tell you that 1 kilogram equals 2.2046 pounds.

But the United States lags behind the rest of the world by stubbornly clinging to a mix of several systems. That Southern California fixture, the swimming pool, is emblematic. Pool length and diving board heights are measured in metric units, while the pool depth is measured in feet and inches.

The days of pounds and inches may be numbered, though. As international trade and immigration from a metric-based world increase, metric will be here to stay.

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