What's your Protocol?

Communication between people in altered mental states can be beautifully direct, with synchronized streams of consciousness that convey worlds of understanding in an expression, in a glance. Think of two enthusiastic travelers coming across the same startlingly magnificient scene simultaneously.

But this synchronicity doesn't come easy. Most folks lose patience and give up on the fellow who is struggling to maintain a conversation about the weather. Little do they know he's also working on the meaning of life at the moment in the back of his mind. Hence, the 8-second delay to every response. But what progress might be made in the meantime?

To apply technical networking terminology to this sort of communication, it's like transferring data on a separate layer using a different protocol. The layer determines the type of information to be handled, concrete or virtual, complex or simple. The protocol establishes guidelines for the discussion, such as when a message has been sent and if any errors occurred in understanding it. Each layer provides a different level of comprehension and each protocol describes how to go about obtaining it.

An example of this might clarify things. When someone asks you, "How's it going?" this can be taken as a simple greeting to be responded to in kind. This would be like information handled on one of the lower layers of a network, which (generally speaking) do little more than route the message to and from the appropriate recipients. "Oh, I'm fine. And you?" Some protocols don't even guarantee the message is received. "Didn't you hear me? I asked how are you? Oh, forget it."

Or this same query might be interpreted entirely differently, perhaps as a question posed by someone genuinely interested in how you're doing. This could be carried out on what is called the presentation layer or even - if we're lucky - the application layer, where the interrogation might be examined, processed and fully answered. "Not so well, really. I'm struggling with finding my place in life and, more pertinently, how I should go about conversing with folks honestly without coming off like a madman."

See the difference in depth and value? It's a matter of determining when these different layers and protocols should be invoked. Sure, every greeting doesn't need to result in a life story. But shouldn't we know how to get to this information when we need it? When those we care about need us to? Aren't these altered states worth exploring, if for no other reason than to ensure true communication?

In short, don't ask someone on acid "How's it going?" and think you'll get away with just hearing "fine."