``When I heard the sound of the bell ringing, there was no I, and no bell, just the ringing."

I'm writing this piece with my toes in brilliant white sand.  I'm on a flawless beach in Thailand, with a noisy jungle to the back and overhanging limestone cliffs to the sides.  My netbook is picking up five bars of wireless internet.  

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In January 2011, Barack Obama declared that internet access is a fundamental human right.  Also in January, students in Tunisia and Egypt, using cell phones and social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, started political revolutions.  These revolutions have been successful, and have spread to other dictatorships in the Middle East.  In February, Egypt's President Mubarak shut down some cell and internet service, in an attempt to interfere with the protesters’ ability to organize.  But it was too late.

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In Thailand, I've been working on math research for my PhD, averaging 35 hours of research each week.  Today I'm posting and reading questions on the forum Math Overflow; I'm emailing and fleshing out a wiki that some U.S. west-coast grad students and I are using to organize a summer school in August; I've downloaded some articles to read later.  In a few days, I'll video chat with my PhD advisor, using a vyew.com meeting room that allows us to share screens as we pore over my uploaded notes.  And I do all this with my toes in the sand.  Most of my research is done with a pen and notebook, but mathematical concepts are so interconnected, and the practitioners so interdependent, that without internet resources I would get nowhere.  

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Cell phones and Facebook accomplished in Egypt what $400+ billion dollars of American meddling  could not accomplish in Iraq.  Empowered citizens took control of their own destiny, and brought about revolution by the people and for the people.

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This beach, Railay,with more of a tourist presence , has a few beachside restaurants with free wifi.  But I'm staying on the next beach down, Tonsai.  Both beaches can be reached only by boat from the mainland.  There are no cars or hot showers.  On Tonsai, accommodation is in jungle treehouses or thatch beach bungalows, visited nightly by monkeys or iguanas, respectively.  We get electricity, from a generator, only between 6pm and 6am.  There are a handful of restaurants serving spicy Thai food and fresh fruit smoothies.  My only expenses are food and lodging, and these add up to about $12 each day.  I'm very happy.

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A recent Wired article interviews John Arquilla, a leading military futurist, discussing the tremendous political power that internet access affords both a citizenry and a ruler.  In the Egyptian example, the US military considered several covert options that would've restored connectivity to the Egyptian protesters.

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Tonsai supports a small international colony of rock climbers.  People come from all over (I've counted over 20 countries...), and stay for months.  We climb on cliffs by the beach, climb up through caves, climb over 50-foot stalactites that are growing stalagmites that are growing stalactites, climb over deep water without ropes and jump in.  The rock is white, black, red, orange, and green.

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For example, suppose you have been using cell phones, Twitter and Facebook to organize your revolution - planning protest logistics, spreading the word, checking in with co-conspirators.  But the ruthless dictator then pulls the plug, and you become disconnected and helpless.  

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Every day, a few climbers make a pilgrimage from Tonsai to Railay, to sit down with their electronics and bask in the invisible waves.   This 20-minute hike consists of scrambling over a rocky and slippery headland, or, if you're lucky and it's low tide, wading around

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But then, suddenly, your cell phone beeps to life.  Your smartphone has full 3G coverage, and starts receiving texts and updating your status.  Even the GPS works.  In fifteen minutes, you've had enough time to do your part in moving the revolution forward.  A triad of unmanned drone planes has been flying low, circling above you.  On their bellies are high-power antennae that beam down wireless coverage.  The planes move on, and again you are disconnected.  But not for long. From Moldova and Iran to Egypt and Tunisia, these new-school revolutions require reception, not guns and tanks.

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The mathematician, the climber, the revolutionary - all practice a solitary art, and all are dependent on the thin threads .

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