The growth of worker productivity in the United States has all but ground to a halt, rising just 0.3% on average per year from 2010 to 2015. Economists have a million hypotheses—everything from a decline in technological innovation to the hangover from the Great Recession from 2007 to 2009.
But Georgetown computer science professor Cal Newport has done his own calculations and he’s blaming one of the most commonly used smartphone apps on the planet: email. Well, email and all the other communications apps we can’t seem to put down like Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and all the rest.
“The period between 2010 to 2015 is when smartphone use transitioned from popular to ubiquitous (I bought my first smartphone in 2012), and with this transition new expectations about constant connectivity migrated from the social sphere to the workplace,” Newport writes in a blog post on Wednesday. “Not surprisingly, many in the knowledge sector (and beyond) talk about the last five years as a tipping point where their annoyance with their various inboxes metastasized to deep, soul crushing resentment.”
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There’s plenty of research to back up the professor’s point that the human brain doesn’t multitask very well, doesn’t really multitask at all, and that the cost of all that constant phone checking is diminished focus and lower productivity.
So what is Newport’s solution? Stepping back from the phone.
“Just because constant connectivity has become the standard approach to work doesn’t mean that it’s good,” he writes. “The time has come, in other words, to step back from this inbox-driven world we’ve created and ask with clarity and humility: does this make any sense?”