Stop sLARPing: Let go of the pressure to reply to every message







January 18, 2023

Don't resent yourself or others for being slow in responding—or not keeping in touch. Appreciate you didn't sLARP each other.

How often do you reply to a message just to keep the conversation going?

"Yeah, let's do something next week and connect then."
"Holidays were great. How were yours?"
"Work is busy busy but all good. You?"

In an episode of the Ezra Klein podcast, Future of Work experts Anne Helen Petersen and Charlie Warzel mention "work LARPing." Here's Charlie's explanation:

"You’re busy, and you’re not really able to give as much attention to your job as you feel you should be in a given moment. And so what you do is you open up your phone, and you skim a conversation going on between a bunch of your colleagues and probably your boss in Slack, and you contribute something pretty meaningless, but nonetheless, it’s a contribution, and it’s visible. Your little dot is red. It means you’re logged on. Therefore, you must be engaged.

But what it is, it’s kind of like work ephemera, work detritus. It’s not creating any kind of productivity. It’s just this performance of presence."

I indeed see this happen at work.
I also recognize it in my personal life.

Social LARPing: Going through the motions of friendship

LARP stands for "Live Action Role-Playing."

In a LARP game, players take the roles of characters and enact a story, often set in a fictional world or the context of a historical event.

As Charlie explained, work LARPing (wLARPing) means acting as an engaged employee on online channels without actually doing much.

I suggest introducing social LARPing (sLARPing): going through the motions of friendship on digital platforms without evolving the relationship.

We sLARP to keep the conversation going

Sending messages is simple and free, so you get lots of them. The red dots pile up, each a reminder of the bad person you are when you don't reply quickly.

So you send a half-assed response.

The message moves neither the conversation nor your relation in any meaningful direction. But hey, it keeps the conversation going.

Counter sLARPing with substance over speed

I'm bad at sLARPing.

People often wait hours, days, or sometimes weeks for my reply. But when they do hear from me, the message tends to be thoughtful.

You can also practice social substance over speed by taking small steps to prioritize meaningful conversations and relationships:

  • Take time to write one thoughtful response instead of ten thoughtless one-liners.
  • Judge others on the substance of their messages, not the speed of their replies.
  • Send a voice message.
  • Agree to call when something is urgent; you'll have less stress about answering or missing a message.
  • Call even when something isn't urgent.
  • Make time for digital breaks. Set a timer for 30 minutes, an hour, or even a full day, and log off to give yourself some much-needed rest.
  • Prioritize the relationships that are most important to you and make time for them.
  • Accept that you can't keep in touch with everyone.

This last point is especially critical in our world of everything, all the time, so let's give it a header.

Accept that you can't keep in touch with everyone.

Just a few decades ago, you simply lost touch with many people.

Some friendly folks you met on vacation.
Good friends from school.
An interesting person you talked with at a party.

Keeping in touch was hard (letters, long-distance phone calls), so you didn't, and that was ok.

Keeping in touch is easy now (in theory), so we connect with everyone. Then we feel we have to keep in touch with everyone, but we can't.

We sLARK our way through too many message threads, keeping the conversation going, but for what purpose?

Don't resent yourself or others for being slow in responding—or not keeping in touch. Appreciate you didn't sLARP each other.

You both probably want to send a meaningful message but didn't get to it, yet.

Maybe one day you will, and that's ok.
Maybe you never will, and that's ok, too.
You'll have more time for substance in other relationships.

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