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The Isolator: l’elmo che stimola la concentrazione by Hugo Gernsback

Hai problemi di concentrazione? Hai perso il filo e non riesci a portare a termine quello che stavi facendo causa continue distrazioni? Non disperare, nel 1925 Hugo Gernsback ha brevettato un apparecchio che potrebbe venire incontro alle tue esigenze.
Stiamo parlando dell’Isolator, il casco concepito per stimolare la concentrazione… isolando completamente chi lo indossa dall’ambiente esterno. Particolarmente indicato per chi è intento a leggere o scrivere, questo elmo rende completamente sordi e limita tremendamente la visuale di chi lo indossa (è presente solo una piccola feritoia sulla facciata).
Volete sapere qual è la vera chicca? Il casco è collegato tramite un tubo ad una bombola di ossigeno pronta ad irrorare il cervello dell’utilizzatore finale aumentandone le prestazioni!


Science and Invention, July 1925–”The Isolator”


The Isolator–inside Science and Invention, July 1925

Queste immagini tratte dalla rivista “Science and Invention” sono datate luglio 1925 curata dallo stesso Hugo Gernsback, membro dell’ “The American Physical Society” nonché conclamato pioniere nel campo della fantascienza.

Focus! Focus!
These images are from the July, 1925 issue of the long-defunct magazine “Science and Invention”, which was edited by Hugo Gernsback, who later became famous as a pioneer in the field of science fiction. He also invented this contraption which, to my mind, nicely illustrates the folly of taking an excessively narrow approach to solving a problem. The “Isolator” is designed to help focus the mind when reading or writing, not only by by eliminating all outside noise, but also by allowing just one line of text to be seen at a time through a horizontal slit. Obviously, doing away with all distractions in this way could be profoundly counterproductive: how would he know that his house was on fire -or, what if he dropped his pencil? Even if all goes well, reading or writing usually involves going back to re-read a paragraph or cross-check a reference. How would he do that? Remove the Isolation Chamber?
It’s about as rational and goofy as Grenville Kleiser’s book “Fifteen Thousand Useful Phrases” (see the previous post); in fact, I think The Isolator would provide ideal viewing conditions for perusing that particular text in the manner that Mr. Kleiser seems to have intended.

Science and Invention, July 1925—“The Isolator”: Explorations of Context, Intent, and Modernity/Modernism.
A large, bulbous, gas mask-like helmet adorns the golden glossy cover of the July 1925 issue of Science and Invention, a monthly magazine promoting scientific interest and amateur experimentation from 1913 to 1929. “The Isolator,”—an invention designed by Science and Invention editor Hugo ­Gernsback to improve concentration through total sensory isolation—covers the head of an otherwise normal-looking, seated man working in a normal office environment. This cover illustration embodies elements both modernist and modern; the invention’s context and intention, though, shade and complicate the its relationship to and expression of modernism and modernity.
Without the context of a periodical cover promotion or the invention’s objective, this illustration of the isolator could be interpreted as a modernist image, perhaps embodying elements of early surrealism. For example, the helmet may represent a distortion and reimagining of the human head within the context of the modern world. The isolator helmet completely conceals the man’s face, stripping him of individuality and embodying the modernist preoccupation with the loss of self to commercial technology and industry in an ever modernizing world. That the device is designed to cover the head, too, implies a stifling of the nuances of the individual mind and intellect’s looming dilution by technology. The electric fan and desktop telephone—both relatively new artifacts of modernity— complement a mood of the pervasive culture of technology within the illustration.
But this illustration is not a modernist painting, and context indeed affects content. Still, the image exhibits components of modernism within its context of an invention promotion on the cover of a magazine. The isolator is quite literally the product of formal experimentation, though technical—and not artistic—in nature. Science and Invention not only promoted the final products of such experimentation, but also encouraged formal experimentation among readers; as Ettiene Lambert points out, the publication “is best remembered…for encouraging it readers to become amateur electrical experimenters” (Lambert). The isolator is quite literally the product of formal experimentation, though technical—and not artistic—in nature. As one of the primary publishers, though, of science fiction, Science and Invention continuously blurred the lines between fiction and reality, science and fantasy, and technology and art.
In terms of new technology, the illustration embraces modernity. Indeed, it appears on the cover of what Lambert describes as one of the most celebrative publications of modernity in terms of technological advance (Lambert). Nor does the image shy away from technology’s sometimes foreign, imposing, or threatening presence. Rather, the integration of such a foreign object into a typical, unremarkable workplace environment implies a willingness to both accept modernity and allow it to alter our daily lives.
Gernsback, as editor and inventor, perceives and portrays modernity in terms of modern technology as helpful. The purpose of this modern invention, though, complicates its medium’s seemingly celebratory attitude toward modernity. The isolator encourages focus and concentration by rendering the wearer deaf, pumping him full of oxygen, and constraining his vision to two small horizontal openings. The intent of the invention implies, then, that aspects of modernity and modern culture breed unwanted distraction and necessitate isolation. Within this context of intended purpose, the isolator seeks to preserve, not stifle, the individual intellect through blocking out the influence of a potentially polluted modern culture.
Indeed, the isolator addresses the uniquely modern difficulty of overstimulation—from advertisements, new technologies, growing populations, industrialization, etc.—specifically in terms of its effect on creators and thinkers. For example, inside the magazine, a caption under a photograph of the isolator describes “[t]he author at work in his private study aided by the isolator. Outside noises being eliminated, the worker can concentrate with ease upon the subject at hand” (Science and Invention). In describing an author at work, the caption targets artists and creators as potential beneficiaries of the isolator and implies that these individuals in particular may find making sense of the modernizing world difficult.
The isolator simultaneously embraces and rejects modernity, celebrating new modern technology in service of self-isolating from the modernizing world. This paradox of purpose and appropriation of material—employing modernity in service of an escape from it— reflects a unique modernist spirit: a spirit which encourages formal experimentation and, beneath a disillusioning structure, inspires order among chaos.

The Isolator, A Bizarre Helmet For Encouraging Concentration (1925)
The Isolator is a bizarre helmet invented in 1925 that encourages focus and concentration by rendering the wearer deaf, piping them full of oxygen, and limiting their vision to a tiny horizontal slit. The Isolator was invented by Hugo Gernsback, editor of Science and Invention magazine, member of “The American Physical Society,” and one of the pioneers of science fiction. Source: greatdisorder, davidson, laughingsquid


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