The old Bible tale about the “Tower of Babel” says that until some point in history, the whole world had one language. The people of the earth became skilled in construction and decided to build a city with a tower that would reach to heaven. By building the tower they wanted to create a name for themselves. God saw their city and he knew that their "stairway to heaven" would only lead the people away from him, as they would be unstoppable in anything they envisioned doing. As a result, God confused their language, causing them to speak different languages so they would not understand each other, and he also dispersed them all over the face of the earth, away from the city.
As in the story, the more mutual points we have, the more capable we are of achieving great things. Things people share can unify them. Culture, language, habits, social media and many other things can bring people together.
Every time a large group of people finds a mutual language, that mutual language has a positive impact on the relations between them. This is applicable not just from the natural language perspective, but also any type of language, or any type of mutual communication we share: sign language, computer languages and applications, traffic symbols and many other things.
Although I would like to address many points about natural languages, such as constructed languages *1 *2, inconsistency of natural language rules, dying languages *3, importance of diversification, capacity of the brain for learning new languages and many other points, I would like to mention one specific type of language for which unification started in the year 1795 but has not been completed to this day, although it should be - as soon as possible.
It’s been said that mathematics is a universal language for the entire universe, and it seems that the more someone is engage in mathematics the more they realize that everything invented always has the same findings and same rules, regardless of your culture or origin. And the same applies whether you are born on planet Earth or on some distant alien world.
Physics, a science that has the task of explaining our world, on the other hand, although strongly related and tied to mathematics, is bit different, especially in the way we decide to call or measure certain things.
In order to avoid confusion and unify the language of physics, the metrification process has begun by introducing the “International System of Units”, commonly known as the metric system. The metric system should replace the traditional or customary units of measurement in a country or region.
The metric system has been introduced in all countries with the exception of the United States and two other countries, Myanmar (Burma) and Liberia, that have not adopted it as their official system of weights and measures. The US is the only industrialized nation that does not mainly use the metric system in its commercial and standard activities, but there is increasing acceptance in science, medicine, government, and many sectors of industry, according to the CIA Factbook.*4
Why not finish the process of metrification swiftly? Let’s begin with smaller countries and end with global change in the United States. However, it is not that this has not been tried in U.S., but it was always unsuccessful. The reason for this is that the change initiative in the U.S. was not rigid enough. When I say rigid, I am do not mean that someone needs to put a gun to someone’s head in order to change something, but that with a few strict laws and policies, followed by strong messages through a media campaign, this can be done within a few months.
What would be the impact on people and society?
After the initial shock, they probably would adopt it during the course of 6 to 12 months. The same happened when the Euro currency was introduced; people from different countries in Europe who adopted the Euro currency mentally struggled during first few months until their brains adapted to a new type of “measure” and after it looked like their previous currency never existed.*5 Of course this process was more difficult for elderly people, but that is not something we should be worried about. If we would need to consider part of the population who cannot adopt new things every time something new needs to be introduced or invented, mobile phones and computers would never been invented. And how would our life look without those?
Completing this process would yield many benefits and it would simplify how we work and things we need to learn when cooperating with each other. Additionally, it would prevent mistakes like the one when we lost the Mars Climate Orbiter in 1998 because of the usage of two different unit systems. That single mistake cost more than $600 million, which was wasted along with our time invested in the mission.*6
Human knowledge is currently doubling every 13 months, and with additional technology this time will continue to shrink. The longer we wait for a change, the more costly and painful it will be.*7
And, as we are at it, the same applies for many other fields, like differences in road traffic rules, the use of AC voltages and frequencies for the power delivered to our homes, different types of wall sockets and many other things.
If your question is “how can I help with this?” the answer is: you can, in multiple ways! First, you can be aware of it, and secondly you can learn metric units. Try to familiarize yourself with them by thinking how tall you are in centimetres or what your weight is in kilograms, for instance. (The good thing about the metric system is that in it your height will have a bigger number and your weight smaller number :) ) Also, you could sign a petition for the metric system that, if it gets enough traction, could speed up the process.*8
Unification always yields benefits as we can better understand each other, but we have to be mindful about it, as diversity is fertile ground for creativity and innovation, and without innovation there would be no progress.
But that is a story for some other time.