he early era of the 20th century is well known for out-of-the-box inventions that seemed to be efficient as well as futuristic, but truly, most of them were considered failed inventions. The Isolator is one of these inventions which at the time was seen to have huge potential. Various products are usually constructed based on a problem that a potential customer may have, in this case, Hugo Gernsback saw a need for a product that would help people study more efficiently.
Solving a problem
Just as today, the major problem for most students back in the day was being distracted by various things. Gernsback was an upcoming engineer who discovered that if we cut all the surrounding distractions and only focus on the book students read or the piece of paper they write on they won’t be distracted. From the research that he had done, he discovered that sound was the biggest factor for this distraction.
That is why he came up with the Isolator. Its main purpose (as the name implies) was to isolate the sound around the user and focus the vision of the user by limiting his or her field of view. In order to isolate sound, the helmet would confine the whole head of the user, therefore the helmet came with an oxygen tank which was attached to the Isolator by a tube that gave the user enough oxygen.
The size of the helmet was very exaggerated in order to not suffocate the user. The first people to try the helmet said that they felt quite sleepy due to the quiet and dark environment it put them through. Some of the first people who tried it were also claustrophobic, which made them immediately reject the product.
In 1925, this product was featured in the American Physical Society magazine of which Gernsback was a distinguished member. The concept of the invention was great, but the helmet was simply too heavy, thus uncomfortable which became a distracting factor. Many people preferred — and I think still prefer — to lock themselves in a room and study for a couple of hours with little to nothing around them to serve as a distraction.
Gernsback had also different inventions that didn’t reach the popularity of the Isolator as they were even more flawed than this one. Besides criticizing the invention, it is a great idea for 1925, but at the same time, we can’t compare the low level of factors that may have caused distraction during that time with the high level of factors that may cause distraction today.
This invention might actually be more welcome today than it was back in 1925 for that reason alone. Keeping student-focused is the biggest challenge that teachers face to this day, mainly due to social media which seems to be the biggest distraction for the Z generation. It may have been quite an attractive or even fashionable piece in the 1920s, but I am not sure how trendy it would be today.
After its appearance in the American Physical Society magazine, not much has been heard about the Isolator.