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The next logical step in productivity crutches

Posted by Kevin Hartnett  May 13, 2013 10:47 AM

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isolator.jpegThoroughbreds wear blinders to keep them focused on the race, so why shouldn't you do the same next time you sit down to work? That was the insight that came to inventor Hugo Gernsback nearly 100 years ago while he was looking for ways to block out distractions. Except instead of stopping at blinders, he proposed a full on helmet that covered the head and face completely save two little slits for the eyes. Gernsback called his invention "the Isolator" and, as Matt Novak reported in a post for the magazine Pacific Standard, the prototype suffered just one drawback: It was stuffy and quickly made the wearer drowsy. So, the plucky Gernsback added a vivifying oxygen tube and got down to work.

The Isolator never caught on, but at a time when balance balls are replacing chairs and you can buy a treadmill-equipped standing desk, maybe it's time to bring it back.

Image of the Isolator from the July 1925 edition of Science and Invention magazine.

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.

Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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