Sf and solutionism / QuantSelf and behaviourism

2 min read

Evidence, if such were needed, that C20th science fiction and the solutionist impulse are two prongs of the same fork:

Technologically assisted attempts to defeat weakness of will or concentration are not new. In 1925 the inventor [and popularisor of pulp science fiction] Hugo Gernsback announced, in the pages of his magazine Science and Invention, an invention called the Isolator. It was a metal, full-face hood, somewhat like a diving helmet, connected by a rubber hose to an oxygen tank. The Isolator, too, was designed to defeat distractions and assist mental focus.

The problem with modern life, Gernsback wrote, was that the ringing of a telephone or a doorbell “is sufficient, in nearly all cases, to stop the flow of thoughts”. Inside the Isolator, however, sounds are muffled, and the small eyeholes prevent you from seeing anything except what is directly in front of you. Gernsback provided a salutary photograph of himself wearing the Isolator while sitting at his desk, looking like one of the Cybermen from Doctor Who. “The author at work in his private study aided by the Isolator,” the caption reads. “Outside noises being eliminated, the worker can concentrate with ease upon the subject at hand.”

(I'm fairly sure there are still a few big names in sf whose approach to writing and life very much resembles resembles Gernsback's Excludo-Helm(TM), if only metaphorically so.)

The above is excerpted aside from a pretty decent New Statesman joint that makes a clear and explicit comparison between the Quantified Self fad and B F Skinner's operant conditioning; shame they didn't reference any of the people who've been arguing that very point for the past five years or so, but hey, journalism amirites?