Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Imperial measures in high-tech

I’ve just been idly browsing through an advertising leaflet – from a well-known electrical goods supplier – that came through our letterbox marked ‘no commercial leaflets’ the other day. I was struck by how odd it is that the use of imperial units seems to persist in so many high-tech contexts. It seems quite appropriate that imperial units should have survived in the Norwich fruit and vegetable market, but it’s strange to see inches being used for digital TVs, computers and other electronic gadgets.

For example, in this leaflet there’s an MP3/MP4 player with an 8 Gb storage and a Micros SD Card Slot advertised as having a 1.8-inches TFT Screen (whatever that might be). It just seems really weird in this high-tech context to give this dimension in inches!

I could also buy an HD-ready digital plasma TV, with a 600 Hz Refresh Rate, USB playback, 2 HDMI Inputs, and – wait for it – a 42-inch screen! And there’s a Windows 7 Emachine laptop computer, with Intel Atom N450 1.666 Ghz, 1024 mb RAM and 160 Gb Hard Drive … which is described as a 10.1–inch Notebook!

This particular use of inches is particularly odd since the generation that is most into these high-tech gadgets has been educated almost entirely in metric units, with just the occasional nod in the direction of a few imperial units that still survive. My grandchildren (Jack, 10, and Luke, 13), for example, can estimate fairly well in centimetres, but have little idea of what an inch is.

In contrast, in the same leaflet, there’s a Camcorder with a 33-mm wide-angle lens. That measurement in millimetres somehow seems much more appropriate and up-to-date technically than old-fashioned feet and inches.

I will make two further observations on this leaflet in later blogs.

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