Car Alarms and Metcalfe’s Law

As I sit here in my office listening to a car alarm go off for well over a minute, I am highly annoyed. But the alarm also caused me to reflect on just how useless car alarms are — perhaps when they were first on the market and only a very small fraction of cars had them, they were effective. But now that they are near ubiquitous and clearly prone to false positives, everyone ignores them, so they no longer are useful; they just disturb the peace.

I think the utility of car alarms are an example of an inverse Metcalfe’s Law, which basically states that the value of a network is proportional to the square of the number of nodes/devices/users in the system. Telephones and fax machines are a good example of this, as is the internet — one fax machine or telephone is useless, but when there are billions of them, things get really interesting.

But car alarms are just the opposite — the more widely deployed they are, the less valuable they become. Does anyone else have examples of things that become less useful the more widespread they are?

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  • Jud Valeski

    such a pet peeve…

    I “heard” you can “just” ram a crow bar in through the grill/headlight, into the car battery to relieve the battery of it's bodily fluids. Once drained, no power for the alarm (not to mention an arrest, and repair costs 🙂 ). Would that be overkill? I can just see someone, annoyed w/ the sound, walking out of a restaurant, bar in hand, stabbing the car, then walking back in to finish dinner.

  • Interesting example. I think the same could be said of banner advertising. When it first came out on some site it was worth looking at. Once they started popping up everywhere people are trained to ignore them.

  • Bruce

    Venture Capital Funds?

    I'm being serious.

  • fronesis

    I've got a much bigger and more important one – how about CARS!

  • Guns and nuclear bombs. Or arms of any kind. Not that they're less effective at doing harm, but that the power they confer diminishes with their ubiquity.

  • You are soooo right. Car alarms should be vanished!!