Friday, June 17, 2016

A matter of scale

It never ceases to amaze me just what we consider important enough to spend our lives arguing about. Never mind about how to solve the Middle East, end poverty or cure cancer: what really exercises our minds is whether Fahrenheit is better than Celsius.

It’s been eight months since I uploaded a video explaining the two scales, and since then a thread has been steadily growing over which scale is “more accurate”, a thread which shows no signs of abating (so far I have twice posted to politely suggest that it may be time to move on, and been roundly ignored both times). Improbably, given the total lack of import, that thread has at times got so personal, I seriously considered disabling comments for a couple of months. At this point, I’m with the one who declared “°RĂ©aumur for life!”

I’m reminded of this because Dana of Wanted Adventure recently uploaded a video explaining why she felt she had to unlist an earlier video on why she prefers Fahrenheit. The comments, apparently, were fine. But it was only the second time that one of her videos got more dislikes than likes.

Okay, we’re not (as I understand it) talking about death threats or trolling or any of that really nasty stuff that makes you think that evolution may have been a big mistake. We’re talking about the bizarrely inconsequential things we discuss as if they were about life-or-death.

There are videos you expect to generate a passionate response. I expected the worst when I uploaded a video about the refugee crisis, although it was actually not really awful. It was a bit awful, just not really awful. At least that one’s rational: every time I mention the trains I get a slew of rants about how unspeakably terrible German trains are, usually from people who almost never use the trains or who have rarely travelled abroad. But that’s predictable and expected, if baffling.

But temperature scales? I never saw that one coming. I get months of acrimonious argument. Dana gets several thousand people who think that the downvote button is a disagree button. What’s going on?

I wonder what else would make viewers explode with apoplectic rage. Kilos? Litres? Euros? Will people start spending six weeks arguing over whether metres are better than yards because they’re longer? If I branch out into astrophysics, will my videos get downvoted if I measure distances in light years instead of parsecs? If not, why not?

We live in odd times. I don't at all mind the fact that people pay close attention to the small stuff. But to pour so much energy into something that is actually quite trivial is something I don’t think I’ll ever quite understand.

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