Cal Newport has spent the past few years studying exactly what society's growing reliance on smartphones means for our health, well-being, relationships and even career success in order to develop strategies aimed at helping people reduce their screen time and become more mindful about technology.
What he learned over the course of writing his new book, "Digital Minimalism," is that "Gen Z has the worst relationship with technology right now," Newport tells CNBC Make It. As the first members of Gen Z graduate college and begin looking for full-time jobs this year, they may find dealing with bosses and coworkers, especially ones from previous generations, tricky.
"We've created a generation that spends more and more time interacting digitally in physical isolation," says Newport. "They've largely transported their social existence from the real world into the digital."
But texts, tweets, Instagram likes and Snapchat streaks don't deliver the same payoffs as a face-to-face conversation or a traditional phone call. "Our brain has evolved for real world social interactions and it doesn't understand what's happening on the screen," says Newport. "So as far as it is concerned, you're not really talking to people that much. You're lonely."
That disconnect can led to serious problems. Depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicide are all rising rapidly among the members of Gen Z, according to a report from the American Psychological Association. Smartphones may be only partly to blame for such feelings as other factors, such as gun violence and sexual harassment, are also causes of stress.
But nearly half of Gen Z say social media makes them feel judged and 38 percent feel bad about themselves as a result of social media use, the report found. In addition to negatively impacting their mental health, heavy smartphone and social media use can also hurt them in the workplace.
"What became clear to me when I was researching my book is that human socializing is very, very hard. There's large amounts of our neuronal infrastructure that is focused on the really subtle act of sitting in a room with someone and actually having an interaction," says Newport. "Mastering this skill is hard and requires lots and lots of practice."
From the time we are born, our brains are hard at work building this skill, trying to understand all the ways humans communicate, be it through words, body language, tone or intonation.