A few weeks ago, NPR ran a story about the "slow internet movement," describing internet cafes that charged 99¢ an hour for you to plug your laptop into an old-fashioned modem and experience the World Wide Wait from the 90s all over again.
They played the familiar and happy robotic beeping sounds that meant a connection was being made. The reporter talked to a young woman who said she got butterflies as she waited for the webpage to slowly reveal its bright shiny contents. They compared it to the slow food movement, whose message is meant to be an antidote to our fast food nation ways.
I loved the story (while still loving my high speed connection!) and even told my husband about it.
One thing I didn't notice: it was April 1. Guess who was an April Fool!?!
And I'd forgotten about the story until yesterday, when someone at a training I was facilitating offered up an interesting metaphor. He said that introverts process information more slowly, like a dial-up modem.
I thought that was a brilliant way of putting it. So I posted this on Facebook:
And the pot was stirred!
What happened? The spirit of my post was to make a point about our more deliberate processing speed as compared to extroverts; some readers wrote that they saw it as comparing introverts to slow, outdated technology that everyone shuns.
Siobhan wrote: "I disagree, this is a terrible analogy. In today's world a modem is viewed as outdated, cheap and 'out of it.' How about more along the lines of we're all on the same train going at the same speed but some of us like to be reading a book in the library car while others prefer to party it up in the dining car. We reach the same destination at the same time, we just chose to prepare for the destination differently."
And Barry added: "Can't go along with this one Beth. 1. Introverts aren't necessarily analytics 2. I have a telecom background , comparing dial up to T3 is like comparing a bike to a jet. We are not slow, just less social energy. 3. Is ready fire aim that much superior to ready aim fire…not in my book….especially when longevity is considered. Would you consider some of your famous introverts like Zucketrberg [sic] 'slow'???"
Another person chimed in, "If someone told me I was like dial up, I would be horribly insulted."
Great points for consideration, all of them. I had no idea the conversation was going to get so juicy!
As often happens when talking about introverts and extroverts, it's difficult not to generalize. After all, we all fall on a continuum, no one person like the other. I just had dinner with a fast-thinking introvert who defies any generalization, as I think we all do.
That said, for the sake of provoking self-reflection and self-awareness, it's helpful to consider what has been found to be the case with the majority of the introvert population: that we tend to think before we speak, rather than thinking out loud. That singular thing – taking, say, 15 or 20 seconds to answer instead of 2 – is often how our need for space to process shows up.
Part of the challenge is that people often associate intelligence with how fast a person thinks, especially under pressure. We may not want to admit that, but I think lots of people make that type of judgment (even us more deliberate thinkers). We're impressed when someone is able to reel off idea after idea, seemingly without needing to think about it much first. Are the ideas solid? Maybe, maybe not, but boy, can they churn them out!
What defines an introvert is how we gain/drain energy and how we process/share information. And the idea that we can take time for reflection is not always reinforced or encouraged… that's why part of my message is that there's no shame or reason to "fix" the introverted part of us that needs time and space to process information in a satisfactory manner. Sure, most of us can spit out an answer as fast as anyone else, but is it the answer we really want? Perhaps – and more likely, we'll have a better answer if we get to do some "dialing up" first 🙂
In fact, the introverts' thoughtfulness, our tendency to turn things over in our heads before speaking, is a strength! Our "ready, aim, fire" approach is a balance to others' "fire, ready, aim" execution style. We need both approaches.
It's not about one being better or worse than the other; it's about understanding and owning how YOU operate best.
So, why did the modem analogy work for me? Because a modem needs time to go through a process and sift through data internally before delivering something outwardly cool. It's about valuing the journey and process, and recognizing that just because something comes at lightening speed, it's not necessarily better.
This is not to say that we're "slow" in the unfortunate way people think of it. And we're not all super analytical… the metaphor might be taking it to the extreme! But it is a reality- I've had lots of people say "just because I take time to process doesn't mean I don't have ideas or I'm not smart." There is a palpable frustration. As a society, we value quick, decisive thinkers and grow impatient if people "take too long."Our "need for speed" sometimes overshadows the value of taking our time.
As Debbie shares on the Facebook post, "Why is slow such a negative word? When I am rushed either internally or externally, I make mistakes or do not answer exactly like I would have if I were given the time… It seems that few people want to take the time to be in the present and experience life."
We all have our "on fire" moments, and some introverts are faster processors than others. I also know from personal experience with rapid-fire extroverts, I've definitely felt like a 56K modem many times, LOL!! (And Barry, yes, I felt like a bike compared to their jet!)
The bottom line: embrace your own personal processing speed. If you happen to be closer to a 56K modem, own it! Know that you do best with time and space to filter data and come out with a brilliant conclusion. For instance, I process faster when I write than when I speak, and faster speaking one-on-one than in a group. Knowing that, I can ask for what I need in different situations and make better choices for myself. What if I seemingly don't have a choice about when and how I respond? At least I know why I might feel anxious or frustrated. Then I can feel compassion for myself and make the best of the circumstances.
In our fast-paced world, let's honor any impulses we may have to think… things… through. Let's release the pressure that puts us on the spot to perform (and perform NOW!). There's almost nothing that wouldn't benefit from marinating a while. Respect yourself and your needs, and if you want to ask for space and grace, DO IT!
What do you think? What analogy would you use? How would you describe the difference between innie and outtie processing styles? And how do you ask for what you need if someone is rushing you? Don't feel pressure to answer right away… give it some thought… I'll wait… 😉