In 1925, Inventors Created "The Isolator" To Increase Focus And Block Distractions


Rachael Funnell

Social Editor and Staff Writer

clockMay 4 2021, 15:27 UTC
In 1925 Scientists Invented "The Isolator" To Increase Focus And Block Distractions

The Isolator did away with distracting sights by taking your vision, hearing, and breath away. Image credit: Document scan by Syracuse University Libraries, Public Domain

Procrastination is an irresistible pastime that has seen scores of could-be geniuses led astray by the allure of doing just about anything other than what it is they’re supposed to be doing. Some may lean on “focus” playlists to keep them on track, while others may temporarily delete apps that can rob hours of your day in what feels like the blink of an eye. In July 1925, the magazine Science and Invention presented a rather more radical approach: The Isolator.

The intimidating piece of kit intended to do away with distractions, highlighting that even when isolated indoors, “the writer” is not shielded from sounds that could disrupt their chain of thought, killing an idea in its tracks. The proposed structure to block out such noise bears some resemblance to the UK political candidate Lord Buckethead, looking like, well, a bucket on the head.

the isolator
Imagine walking into the library with this much sauce. Image credit: Document scan by Syracuse University Libraries, Public Domain

“The first helmet constructed as per illustration was made of wood, lined with cork inside and out, and finally covered with felt,” read the article. “There were three pieces of glass inserted for the eyes. In front of the mouth there is a baffle, which allows breathing but keeps out the sound. The first construction was fairly successful, and while it did not shut out all the noises, it reached an efficiency of about 75 per cent. The reason was that solid wood was used.”

To bump up the noise-blocking abilities of The Isolator, the makers included an air space inside the helmet which reportedly blocked around 90 to 95 percent of sounds. Strangely, when the wearer was left to work for more than fifteen minutes in what looks to be a rather stuffy brain sauna, they became quite drowsy. “This is not conductive to hard thinking, and for that reason the writer introduced a small oxygen tank, attached to the helmet,” read the article. “This increases the respiration and livens the subject considerably.”

While it’s true that nothing dampens productivity quite like asphyxiation, maintaining a flow of good quality air is a tad more complex than jamming in an O2 nozzle. Too much oxygen can become toxic, but without sufficient flow of gas and an adequate exhaust, the accumulating CO2 is a far more likely and serious complication.

the isolator
Ensuring CO2 goes out while O2 goes in is a delicate and complex process. Image credit: Document scan by Syracuse University Libraries, Public Domain

“There’s a whole part of anaesthetic science devoted to this called the Mapleson Breathing Systems,” said Dr Daniel Funnell, an anesthetist at Medway Hospital, UK, to IFLScience. “You need enough oxygen flow into the system in between each breath to purge the CO2 from the system, otherwise you’re going to inhale both fresh oxygen and the exhaled CO2 with your next breath. This would mean CO2 would build up in the bloodstream, rapidly becoming fatal.

“You’d probably have to have a new cylinder of O2 every half hour, which is quite an expensive way to not get distracted. They’ve essentially designed a big snaking exhaust port which massively increases the dead space in the system, acting as a reservoir for exhaled gas. You’d be better off just having a hole."

Just in case this wasn’t sounding quite claustrophobic enough, The Isolator knocked out visual distractions, too. Two glass window holes were included for both eyes, but the window surface was painted black. The makers then etched two horizontal lines into the windows to give the wearer tunnel vision. This could shield the wearer from distracting sights like your cat being cute, or someone about to light a cigarette next to your (potentially leaky and highly flammable) oxygen supply.


Want our advice? Stick to the playlists.

[H/T: Open Culture]