Yesterday (11th Dec ’18), The Gleaner newspaper in Jamaica published an article highlighting the fact that “most Jamaicans continue to think and operate in pounds and gallons”, despite moving to the metric system decades ago — and implied that the country should change to use only metric units. It is assumed that people’s unwillingness to change and the fact that their biggest trading partner (the USA) does not commonly use metric are the driving forces behind the continued use of customary units.

I wonder though, is this really a big problem? Sure Jamaica needs to use metric in some areas, including trade with other countries, but is using customary units for day-to-day things really a bad thing?

I would say it may even be a good thing. When we learn another language, whether in school or otherwise, it is considered a good thing and is something to be encouraged. Why not apply the same logic to the way we measure things? Learning to measure things in different ways is a good thing. It may not have all of the benefits to your IQ and mental health as learning a new language, but surely having another approach to look at and measure something would be to your gain in the long run.

Both systems have their strengths and weaknesses, and using either one, depending on the situation, can make the most of their strengths. It might make sense, for example, to use customary for everyday use — where the units are of a more useful size and mostly sound better (due to the often monosyllabic words — read more on my previous post).

If Jamaicans were to fully switch to metric for everything, what actual tangible difference would it make to ordinary people who want to use customary? Surely allowing people the freedom to use whatever they want is a good thing?

Also, maybe there are genuine reasons that customary units persist in some countries. Nobody had to be forced to switch to improvements like flat screen TVs and  smart phones — why do people need to be forced to switch to metric if it really is better?…

Jamaicans “Sticking With Pounds and Gallons”

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