THE BRAZEN CAREERIST- Human moments: Get up close & personal at work

The media talk about information overload, but young workers are comfortable with a deluge of information. For them, filtering huge amounts of information is intuitive, says Ashley J. Swartz, president of a new-media marketing firm.

Most twentysomethings look at computers all day, and their worries are how to combat cubicle alienation and maintain friendships when technology no longer provides a social gathering place.

Jose Olivo is a desktop analyst. When someone's computer has a problem, Olivo fixes it while the person goes to lunch. Other times, Olivo works on someone's computer remotely, without leaving his desk. This is all highly efficient, but completely lacking in social opportunity.

What today's workers need is more "human moments," a term coined by Harvard lecturer Edward M. Hallowell. He defines the human moment as "an authentic psychological encounter that can happen only when two people share the same physical space."

The need to have regular human moments at work is similar to the need to stand up and stretch on an airplane: Your well-being depends on it.

The human moment is a quality of interaction you don't get from computers, or even the phone. "In order to really converse with someone, you have to keep reading them– when they look at you, when they smile, when they turn away, "says Jayme Lewin Rich, an occupational therapist.

Often the computer encourages superficial attention to streams of data, but talking face-to-face demands focused emotional and intellectual involvement.

A wide body of research shows that this sort of face-to-face interaction is essential. For example, deaths are three times higher for socially isolated people than for those with strong connections to others. And without frequent cuddling, babies develop neurological problems.

"In-person contact stimulates an emotional reaction," explains Columbia neurologist Lawrence Honig. Bonding hormones are higher when people are face-to-face. And some scientists think that face-to-face contact stimulates the attention and pleasure neurotransmitter dopaimine, and serotonin, a neurotransmitter that reduces fear and worry.

Working at the computer or talking on the phone for a long time is as exhausting as staring at the TV. The brain starts to crave rest from input overload and fuel from human contact.

So when you're feeling tired at work, try creating a human moment for an energy boost. It doesn't have to be earth-shattering and intimate. It can be short and professional. You just need to be paying attention to each other. Olivo is known for walking around the office telling jokes, and people have said to him, "If it weren't for your jokes, I'd go crazy."

Consider human moments outside work, too. Young people spend their lives socializing electronically. But when full-time work starts, says Swartz, "Over time, email changes to a work tool instead of a socializing tool. As workload increases for a professional, the usefulness of the Internet as a social tool diminishes."

Younger workers must shift how they handle friendships. While it's clever to book a conference room to make a personal phone call at work, it's not enough. Phone-based relationships, like email-based relationships, are bound to be less sophisticated because cues like body language, tone of voice, and facial expression are necessary to develop relationships rich with subtle language, irony, and wit.

But each face-to-face meeting you have with someone increases the quality of subsequent electronic communications. "So make time to have lunch with someone," says Hallowell. "This is the kind of thing that builds loyalty and depth and these relationships take a lot of time." Olivo makes time to play basketball with the same crowd almost every day, and he's developed real, sustainable friendships that Hallowell talks about.

Moving from college to adulthood takes a long time these days: almost a decade. You're likely to be happier during this journey if you concentrate on building and maintaining strong relationships. And there's no way to do that except face-to-face.