A person playing a game on a smartphone | Representational image | Wikimedia Commons
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The strongest of the four fundamental forces known to modern physics is called, well, the strong force. At the same distance it is 137 times stronger than electromagnetism and 1038 times more powerful than gravity. The strong force keeps sub-atomic particles attached to each other.

Modern physicists who are also modern parents know better. The strongest force in nature is the one that keeps teenagers attached to smartphones.

A lot of energy is required to separate them and the outcome is exothermic, exosonic and often explosive. I have written about my experiments with this area of physics in a Debates with my Daughters column.

So when some of my colleagues wondered whether the Taliban 2.0 regime in Kabul would ban smartphones, I responded that it would be quite unlikely. Telephone penetration in Afghanistan in the 1990s during Mullah Omar’s days was negligible. It is over 70% today in a country where half the population is less than 18 years old. The Talibs themselves are probably more addicted to smartphones than the other addictive substances available in their country; although like people around the world they are bound to claim that they need the phone for work-related purposes.

I’m pretty sure that the greatest threat to the Taliban’s hold on power will come from the smartphone. They’ll probably place some big orders on Chinese suppliers of censorship technologies, but their mileage will vary. They can pull the plug entirely — they are the Taliban after all — but I suspect they do not want to contend with the Strong Force.

General Secretary Xi Jinping of the Chinese Communist Party is a different story. He had already enforced 90 minutes of screen time on all Chinese kids a couple of years ago. He has now declared online games “opium of the mind” and issued a further decree allowing them no more than 3 hours of gaming per week, and only Friday to Sunday. The time thus freed will be available to revise Xi Jinping Thought, which has been included in the school curriculum.

Unlike the Taliban, the Chinese Communist Party believes that it is strong enough to challenge the Strong Force.

Get popcorn!

BTW. Xi has also launched a crackdown on entertainment industry celebrities. I am sure there are analysts who will explain that this is because he thinks artistic talent is wasted on popular culture, and young Chinese artists must be streamed into strategic high culture. The simpler explanation, as I have argued earlier, is that the good General Secretary is leaving no stone unturned in his bid to retain power for the third term. Kill the chicken to scare the monkey, as the pithy Chinese aphorism goes.

Nitin Pai is the director of the Takshashila Institution, an independent centre for research and education in public policy. He tweets @acorn. Views are personal.

This article has been republished from nitinpai.in with permission from the author.

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