Youtube– that amazing source of information and entertainment that is slowly being strangled by advertising, even though advertising is the only way to pay for it all– belched out some videos in my direction that concerned a particular mathematical expression:
…or something. Notice that I’m playing fast and loose with that “slash” that is (as a matter of fact) standing in for the traditional “division” sign we all remember from grade school. This expression, after we do a bit of calculation, turns out to be equal to 18. It’s not really a mind-bender, by any means. But what makes it into a meme is the use of that damned “divided by” symbol and the fact that old farts like me tend to see that as a “grouping symbol” and so we do the calculation so that the answer would be .5, or “one half” or 1/2. That’s quite a range of error. Eighteen, or a half. It’s pretty large, if you’re pouring concrete or launching a rocket prepare for a major f-up.
Old farts like me see that “divided by” sign and we naturally put “mental parentheses” around whatever is to the right and left of it. It is seen to “stand in” for a line drawn horizontally, (called a “vinculum”) and so us old guys get the wrong answer.
But this boring stuff isn’t important. What’s important is the way that Youtube comments (and, I suppose, “social media” comments) just go OFF THE RAILS due to younger people going BALLISTIC over this. (I’m assuming they’re younger). It turns into a “you stole my social security” catfight almost immediately. The people who learned how to calculate (or simplify, as some old codgers insist on putting it) using that damned “divided by” symbol just attack and try to bite out your jugular as soon as you imply that their math kung fu is weak.
Now, I’m tempted to say that this whole thing is the result of computers and damned kids (and who came up with “digital native” anyway??). But it can’t really be that because here I sit, trying to type in that blasted “divided by sign” and it won’t happen because my computer, bless its heart, never heard of it. I have to do some “stand on my head” keyboard gymnastics to get that weird little symbol to appear– so it can’t be that Arnold Terminator is going to insist on using that symbol when the machines take over.
No, it can’t be that. In fact, NOTHING about learning how to “interpret this expression” has ANY PRACTICAL USE WHATSOEVER in the real world. It’s just another layer of math dumbassery that is pushed at youngsters in order to provide school teachers with paychecks and help keep the only remaining part of our economy alive.
But it’s on a ventilator.
The rule that youngsters breathe fire about is called PEDMAS which stands for “Parentheses, Exponents, Multiplication and Division, and Addition and Subtraction”. Jesus. It’s like learning to shoe a horse before you can learn to repair your car. It’s all about how to interpret an expression that written in a way that is ambiguous to begin with, so, I suppose, it’s like learning to read and write in a language that has been dead as long as the Pharoahs. I’m having difficulty imagining a scenario where this would be important… oh wait… of course it’s important IN MATH CLASS where you have to deal with TEXT BOOKS. That’s it. The only place it has any meaning would be in a classroom. Otherwise, well, I suppose NASA is stupid enough to misprint ten thousand tech manuals so that everybody has to go back to ding dong school and re-learn PEDMAS. “Yes, Watson, the answer can be arrived at, but only by using PEDMAS, or, since we are in Great Britain, BODMAS!”