Before today's written number system was developed, there were many different ways to communicate numbers and amounts. The Incans, Mayans, Greeks, Egyptians, Romans, and other civilizations all formed their own number systems that they were using to communicate across their groups. These number systems were composed of lines, dots, and symbols that represented different number amounts. However, we still use tools today to count that were used thousands of years ago, such as our hands, sticks, rocks, and other small objects that people use to count with.
By 500 B.C., we had begun to use the base-10 numerical system, which is composed of the ten digits: 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9. The creation of this system can be credited to the influences of the Chinese, Indian, and Arabic number systems (History of Chinese Invention). This is the number system most commonly used around the world today.
Numbers are seen in all aspects of our universe, and are used in a multitude of different ways. In fact, numbers are used in far more areas of our life than just mathematics. Take a moment to pause what you are doing, and observe the two-foot radius around you. How many different uses and forms of numbers do you see that you do not consider "mathematics"? In the two-foot radius that surrounds me as I sit at my desk writing this blog, I have counted 13 different uses of numbers. One that I found is particularly interesting is the numbers on a fan. We often designate numbers to represent the different speed or intensity levels of the functions of everyday objects. While this can be viewed as mathematical, it is not something that I would normally consider to be "math in my life". This personal example demonstrates how the number system has a role in my everyday life, and how anyone reading this blog can consider how the number system impacts their own life as well.
I am a mathematics education major, so it is apparent that I feel our number system is important and matters in our everyday lives. However, I asked my roommates what they think of our number system, and if it matters to them. Here are the responses I received:
"Numbers are numbers. I don't see how we could count or keep track of things without numbers. There are numbers on everything and to take those away or use a different system would kind of screw everyone up I think. It would probably result in a lot of mass murders and devolve quite a bit."
"I think our number system matters because its a tracking system for literally everything. But I don't think that means its the only right way to do it. If we switched I think it would be fine eventually but cause a lot of problems at first."
Their responses were similar to what I expected they would be. The number system we have currently matters because of that exact point, it's what we have right now. Many things in our world are built off of the number system, including all of our current technology, so if we were to change the system, I believe it would cause a bit of an uproar. However, the world is constantly changing and evolving, so there is no way of knowing if our future generations will take our discoveries to the next level and invent a number system that is more efficient.
In conclusion, our number system is basically what makes the world go 'round. In my opinion, I believe the concept of a "number system" is what matters more than the actual numbers and symbols used in that system. The system itself is what keeps things organized and functioning, but it could be represented with any symbols.
It matters because it plays a role in everything we do, and has been around for many centuries,
Number Systems: Where Did Numbers Originate?
History of Chinese Invention - The Decimal System of Number Representations