The Isolator: Every Cubicle Worker Should Have One


The Isolator ADHD
The caption reads: The 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.

Do you work in an office dominated by cubicles? Isn’t that the worst idea ever, for folks with ADHD and everyone else? Perhaps someone will re-introduce this  early distraction-reducing device: The Isolator. 

The helmet’s eye-holes made just one line of text visible at a time, through a horizontal slit.

Inventor Hugo Gernsback was the publisher of Amazing Stories and Science and Invention magazine, which featured the contraption on its cover. Gernsback is sometimes called the “Father of Science Fiction.” The annual Hugo Award, presented annually at the World Science Fiction Convention,  is named for him.

the isolator adhd


This Looks More Comfortable

It seems the closest we have today is the Ostrich pillow.






17 thoughts on “The Isolator: Every Cubicle Worker Should Have One”

  1. Pingback: This Old School Device Used To Treat People With ADHD Will Creep You Out - Gabvine

  2. I work in a cubicle space with low walls (about 4 ½ feet). While I like my teammates, a couple if them can be chatterboxes, so I have to be on guard, else I get sucked into listening to every detail of their conversation.

    My tactic is to wear good fitting earbud style headphones (which provide isolation even absent anything playing), then from my phone I play a random noise generator, just low enough to mask any speech that makes it past the fitted earbuds.

    This works really well, and I can frequently get hours of uninterrupted work done with this setup.

    — AceyMan

    1. That’s a great strategy, AceyMan.

      What I’ve also found, being in middle-age, is that people have much louder “indoor voices” than they used to. Maybe too many loud concerts, or something.

      Thanks for the suggestion.

  3. At my 2 jobs where I actually had to pay attention, the first was the better one. I shared an office with another person right out of college and it seemed like the times we were both in the office at the same time, we were either both working quietly or talking to each other and we got along great. We worked on different things and had very different schedules so the amount of time we were both there was just right and it was nice having a door that closed. It is a much stronger “don’t bug me” signal than a chair (or the police line do not cross tape I used a LOT OF at my next job with a do not disturb sign; I think someone knocked on that closed door once and the importance was almost at “the building is on fire and about to collapse” level). It worked well. Not lonely and we experimented with moving our desks around a lot to find the best layout to accommodate the amount of equipment each of us had in there at any given time (funny how we were paired based on we were the only 2 new hires and had more bulky equipment than anyone, I was the only female on the team -and not the only one interviewed and hired; that job was my friend’s internship the previous year and they picked me over her but she got offered a job too that she liked better- and he was the only one on the team who wasn’t white, we were both in our 20s and everyone else was a white man, the youngest I’d guess late 40s… So the two people who had the most equipment and not enough time at the company for our own office had to share one and yeah we noticed the other part too – made a cool sign for the door that said “diversity compliance office” lol). We got along really well and were on a team full of practical jokers (even our boss!) and that helped a lot. We also both had headphones and liked to listen to music while working and that sure didn’t hurt. The other advantage of sharing an office with someone you like is others are less aware of the amount of time spent socializing. Except when we needed a second whiteboard after I said more than “hi” to the guy who empties the trash and found out he didn’t speak English and my officemate wanted to get in on the growing “do not clean” area of our whiteboard with poorly drawn pictures and the English and Spanish word underneath and we put in an order for a whiteboard we could use for work. But honestly all that mattered was getting your work done and the language stuff happened “after hours.” That place was awesome, especially given the “blue suit” reputation.

    My other job was a cubicle farm. I didn’t like it even though I had my own. I made myself an actual door using parts from the “broken, please take this away” pile as a frame and the above-mentioned police line tape as the rest and plenty of duct tape on the side. It, along with a do not disturb sign, couldn’t be more clear but it was a different culture (and some rule says no doors on cubicles because somehow if there’s a fire I won’t get out just pushing my way through the caution tape so it didn’t last long either) and everyone else seemed to be tall enough to just stick their head over the wall. And the touted work life balance at that place had a coworker turned good friend and I surrounded by security at 3am one night because we were expected to use the recycle stations and the closest was two buildings over; given the impossible deadlines and glass bottles for whatever I was drinking, a plastic bag wasn’t going to work so I brought in a duffle bag and needed help carrying it. I mean it seemed like a good idea at the time – not many people were around to be bothered by the noise made by the glass bottles. Even when approached by the first visible security guard, neither of us seemed to think there was anything unnatural about two people walking through the site with a very heavy duffle bag because there were few recycle stations that had glass. We were being courteous to others and seriously needed a break from work. What’s so weird about that? Um can you say sleep deprivation? When we were more than willing to have the bag searched and our badges checked out, the 6 or so security guards sent to deal with us got a good laugh out of the whole thing and my team stopped recycling glass. I can only imagine what went on when someone saw us on one of the cameras lol they probably had the site locked down – we never thought about how this looked and our attitude of “what’s so weird about taking the recycling to the bin during a break?” wasn’t an act. When that same coworker as I were having a serious non-work discussion during business hours in quiet voices, it was obvious we weren’t working and I’m not sure how much could be heard but it was too much if people knew it wasn’t about work. It happened to be much more important than work… Something called a family crisis. The third time our boss told us to get back to work, we just went outside. Perhaps this discussion would never have happened if we didn’t have good stories to tell about being completely surrounded by scared security guards for taking the recycling that ended up being more than just my own to the place it goes, which happens to be a long walk for the heaviest thing besides paper. So this flex time thing made business hours fair game for an hour break in our minds and sitting right next to the boss sucks.

    That said, I feel sorry for my husband, who has a beautiful view out the window… on a completely open floor shared with I’m not sure how many hundred people and just rows of long tables, err, desks with the clearest dividers being the computer monitor between you and the person facing you. There at least used to be a file cabinet thing next to every chair and I remember the complaining that went on when cubicle farm place laid off a bunch of people and wanted to save money by not using parts of the place (and not paying for heat, a/c, lights, etc. and moved everyone around and the cubicle size went from 8×8 to 6×6… These people lost their storage space and a bunch of precious desk space when they got packed in more tightly. And the people who talk on the phone all day are mixed in with the people who work at the computer all day and there’s nothing preventing accidentally kicking the feet of the person you’re facing. I wouldn’t be able to work there, especially anywhere near his desk with all the clutter. This is supposed to promote communication but even if they put the people working together near each other more consistently, they would still primarily use something that’s basically instant messenger because it’s so loud in there everyone wears headphones. And they can’t communicate using IM with less distraction? There’s no privacy in this type of setting. In going for transparency with walls made of glass and whatnot, I’m surprised there are stalls in the women’s restroom and solid walls. But hey he has a corner office with a beautiful view! Actually he has all 4 corners. I feel bad for him and anyone else who has to work like that.

    I agree the open floor plan in general is a bad idea in general. It doesn’t work for anyone regardless of ADHD or SPD or ANYTHING ELSE. It might work at a very small company where most of the day is spent with everyone collaborating and discussing ideas, discreet desks (not long tables with imperceptible dividers) and enough distraction-free quiet areas with the same resources you’d have at your desk so there is no competition for them. The ideal open floor plan would be a central area for collaboration flanked by offices with doors that open directly into this area and through some kind of magic, natural light everywhere.

    I read about people using music to tune out the silence. All that stuff wasn’t written by people in my environment. There is no silence. I use music to tune out the sirens and car horns and the unexpected noises like the one right now that has me worried a neighbor’s cat may be outside on a window ledge or something. If I can do it on my iPhone or don’t need net or access to my files at home, I might find a nicer environment at a park. My husband’s clutter isn’t limited to his desk and I can’t even keep my own stuff in order these days. I use music to create more pleasant noise than the ambient noise which is still better than the constant ringing in my ears (and no, nothing can be done for that aside from complete darkness and relaxation combined and that just reduces it, followed by relaxing outside in unaltered sunlight (meaning no sunglasses not even clear lenses). So there really is no silence for me and before the ringing in my ears, I remember visiting where we used to live and the silence there nearly gave me a panic attack the first day. It was actually creepy until I got used to it again. Then I had to come home. If a certain someone was willing to give up our data plan, I’d get tethering on my phone but I don’t mind him having a strong opinion about that. Streaming a hockey game uses a lot of data and I don’t have to even think about that. And hockey is way more important than productivity…

    And that thing looks like a torture device. To today’s kids, it probably would be… Where can I get one?

    1. Hi Danielle,

      Such a good writer you are! And such stories! I can picture you, creeping across the site carrying what looks like a body bag. All innocent-looking. 🙂

      Thanks for sharing!

    1. Precisely, Kathy!

      Many friends who have ADHD tell me the stimulants really help them to block out “ambient” noise and distractions.


    1. Carl, I’m so glad I’m not in an office these days, to even know what that’s about.

      Then again, I somehow adapted the transition from a magazine (where I had an office, with a door) to a cheek-by-jowl newspaper newsroom.

      That was when I had a younger brain, though, and people were more inclined to use “inside voices.”


    1. Sorry, Kathy! What possible remedy can there be for the scourge of cubicle mania?

    2. I use headphones in my office so I don’t have to hear my coworker rummaging in her desk or printing things…it also discourages her from trying to talk to me or otherwise interrupt when I am in the zone. HaHa! And I am a social worker! But I know my needs and she understands! Not quite the giant ostrich head!

    3. Great strategy, Kathy. You can discourage interruption, etc. without being rude.

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