Metric Units of Time

While the metric system has simplified calculations of distance, weight, and volume, units of time have, so far, remained outside of its sphere of influence. Instead of nice and tidy powers of ten, we have 60 seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in an hour, 24 hours in a day, and 12 months in a year. Even more untidy is the way in which the number of days in a month is variable, and the fact that there are not quite 365 ¼ days in a year.

Really, this is quite an appalling state of affairs. I mean, can you imagine if a meter contained between 28 and 31 centimeters? Or if we had to add leap grams every fourth kilogram, except when the kilogram was divisible by 100 and not 400? It would make calculations cumbersome, to say the least.

That is why the General Conference on Weights and Measures (GCWM) has finally decided to act to standardize time. When we contacted Gilbert Laprise, président exécutif of the GCWM, we found him in an exultant mood:

At last, after more than 200 years, we can finally complete this most permanent and enduring work of la révolution. This is, indeed, a moment très glorieux, and I quiver with excitement unsuppressed.

The new system, which will take effect on January 1st of next year, will be based on the jour, with subunits of deci, centi, and millijour. For longer units of time, we will be able to use deca, hecto, and kilojour.

Critics allege that this new system suffers from a serious problem: while the current cumbersome and impractical system of measurement corresponds to natural phenomenon such as the seasons, there will be no such correspondence with the new system. However, as Laprise explains, this difficulty is only temporary:

Just as evolution has reshaped other facets of the natural world to conform to the metric system, we have no doubt that the same will occur with respect to time. After all, a man’s foot has gone from an average of one foot in length to an average of 26.3cm, and the average distance an adult walks in a day has gone from 8 miles to 3.2186880km. Even the speed of light has changed from 670,616,629.384395 miles per hour to 299,792,458 meters per second. Therefore, we have no doubt that, given enough time, the seasons will align themselves with the new system for the measurement of time. If it becomes necessary, we could even employ some sort of advanced technology to alter the orbit of our Earth so that it fits more accurately with the rational and scientific system of measurements.

“Dart II System Diagram,” by Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons. Labels removed by The Flying News.


Add a Comment
  1. Jim Jocifero says:

    I once calculated the acceleration due to gravity with a partner in a physics class, when we dropped something really heavy from the great heights. We came out with 9.812 meters per second squared, which means that the guys in the General Conference on Weights and Measures (CGPM) were pretty close. We decided not to embarrass them, though.

  2. Euclid says:

    I’ve always wondered about those square seconds. Are they anything like square circles? How about square thirds? And if they’re square, how do they manage to go so fast?

  3. Linnaeus says:

    What about the Specific Conference on Weights and Measures? How come we never hear about them?

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