Will the Metric System Make a Comeback?

One of eight proposed logos under consideration by Linda Anderman. Courtesy


Los Alamos resident Linda Anderman has an ambitious plan: to produce an independent documentary about what happened to the metric system in the United States.

“As a product of the 1950s, I was taught that the metric system was an eventuality, but as a child, it didn’t really occur to me that it never came to pass,” Anderman said.

A discussion with a colleague near the end of last year prompted her to do some research about what had happened in the intervening years.  

“As a writer, I’m naturally curious and once I began my research, I came across the website for the U.S. Metric Association. One of its pages has a long litany of the various acts and legislations that the United States had enacted since its earliest days regarding weights and measurements,” she said. “I came to realize that the United States had passed its first metric law in 1866. I’m not sure when I was taught, but the last biggest push for the metric system came with the Metric Conversion Act in 1975, and here we are still buying things in pounds and measuring in inches, even though 95 percent of the world uses the metric system.”

Anderman said the information occurred to her as a long, sad story. “And frankly, it made me kind of embarrassed as an American. I thought, ‘What does the rest of the world think of us for this?’ I imagine they think that we are too egocentric and lazy to learn a mathematical system that is fundamentally superior to the units that we currently use and is the basis for math, science, and medicine, the world round.”

As for the genesis of the current project, Anderman says it occurred to her while watching a documentary on Netflix.

“I’m a former film major who used to make videos for General Motors, and while I’ve been writing throughout my career, I hadn’t done any video work for quite a long time,” she said. “However, I started getting back into video production at work not too long ago and my internal frame of reference shifted. Combine that with my newly discovered information about the metric system, and the realization that there are so many more distribution avenues available today then there was even 10 years ago, and it occurred to me that I could tell a fascinating story without having to get a Discovery Channel or PBS on board with my idea.”

Anderman said she began her project in earnest less than two months ago.

“Once all the data points came together for me, I had to seriously consider whether I wanted to take this project on in addition to  my day  job at the laboratory,” she said. “But the more research I did, the more fascinated I became with the subject.”

Anderman thinks it will probably take about two years for her to complete the project as she continues to work full-time.

“My working title for the project is: More Than a Mile Behind: America and the Metric System,” she said. 

Anderman says the second part of the title could change, but she’s sticking with “More Than a Mile Behind” for the main title.

“For instance, my daughter suggested for subtitle I use, ‘America’s complex relationship with the metric system’ but that’s a little long,” she said.

“One of my biggest challenges will be funding. I’ve since come to realize that animation, which I’ll need to convey some of the more abstract ideas regarding measurement, will present a major funding obstacle,” Anderman said. “My preliminary figures for professional, low-end animation will be around $6,000 a minute. My goal is to obtain 501(c)(3) fiscal sponsorship through the International Documentary Association. That will allow me to fund raise using avenues such as kickstarter.com to fund this.”

Right now, all the funding is coming out of Anderman’s pocket. “Aside from research materials, my biggest expense so far has been a design competition for the logo for this project,” she said. “Over the last four days, designers have been submitting ideas for my consideration. I now have to select my six finalists, and over the next three days I can interact with them to refine their design ideas before I have to pick a final one. I’m currently taking input on what designs people like the best. This is a timed competition, and I’ve decided that I will continue to use monitor input until noon on Saturday. That still leaves me a couple of days to work with the designers before everything has to be finalized.”

To vote on the top eight designs go http://99designs.com/logo-design/vote-2j95ui.

“I recognize that some people will want to keep the system that they’ve always used,” Anderman said. “That’s human nature. Having studied change communication, one of the things that people need to realize is that change in our environment throws off our sense of competency as we learn a new system. But most people can adjust. The idea that changing to the metric system is too complicated or costly is unfounded. I’m sorry, but if  95 percent of the world has figured out how to make the changeover, it seems silly to me that a technological power like the United States is still behind on this.”

Anderman’s ultimate goal is to get people talking about this again. “No politician is going to take up an issue that’s been dead in the water for 30 years,” she said. “It’s going to take a grassroots effort to get caught up with the rest of the world and I’m trying to be part of that effort.”

Anderman also has started a blog about the project at milebehind.wordpress.com and has a milebehind twitter feed.

“I kind of started a Facebook page, but I don’t find it very user-friendly. I’ll have to spend more time figuring it out,” she said.

Contact Anderman at milebehind@gmail.com. She’ll also be at the “Next Big Idea” Sept. 15 in downtown Los Alamos.



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