Open source as a lifestyle

Berlin as a city is certainly open, but how about open source? We profiled four open source near-exemplars, beginning with 28-year-old Kiwi Sam Muirhead, who decided to open source his life for a year – from technology to toothpaste.

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Photo by Tania Castellví

Twenty-eight-year-old Kiwi Sam Muirhead decided to open source his life for a year – from technology to toothpaste.

“I’m not using DIY condoms!” Sam Muirhead instantly clarifies. “I’m researching the idea, but it will most likely be me interviewing experts and writing articles rather than getting the cling film out at home.”

We’re talking kitchen-based birth control with Muirhead because since August 1, 2012, the Berlin resident has been his own guinea pig for a unique experiment: live open source for one full year.

“I want to show the influence of open source thinking and how you can include it in all different areas of life.” Including filmmaking: the project is also a documentary. Muirhead updates his blog twice every three weeks with video footage of his investigations.

But how can one wave farewell to beloved chains such as Ikea (which his girlfriend still continues to buy for their shared apartment), Media Markt and Coca-Cola? “It’s been a gradual transition. I’m not buying any more proprietary products but I haven’t thrown all my possessions on a bonfire either.” For example, Muirhead hasn’t abandoned his computer. He’s progressed onto the open source software Ubuntu but there’s still a glowing Apple in the filmmaker’s life. This is predominantly because of the huge cost of obtaining an entirely open source computer.

Eating isn’t as simple as picking up a quick kebab either. “That’s the one area I’m confident I can survive in. The idea is to look into the appliances that I have and see how the technology around my cooking works.” But while Muirhead wants to know where his food comes from, he doesn’t seem to worry about the coffee he drinks in the café where we meet.

Evidently, his quest for an open source life is not devoid of paradoxes. For example, he makes his own toothpaste – a unique recipe based on baking powder, hydrogen peroxide solution, glycerine and peppermint oil – but cleans his gnashers with a regular toothbrush.

His latest difficulty is that his fridge is at “death’s door”, and it’s hard to find an open source replacement to keep his Mier beer chilled. Transportation is also under investigation. “There’s nothing particularly problematic about my bike but I do want to make an open source one. In terms of public transport, it’s going to get a lot more difficult. Winter won’t be easy.”

Living open source is no bed of roses. It is also no hobby: it’s now Muirhead’s full time occupation after quitting his job as a tour guide. “People think open source is free. It’s not free; it’s free of cost. I still need to survive.”

Financial help has come in the form of… crowd funding! $6731 was raised in 37 days (the goal was US$20,000). “The $20,000 isn’t just so I can live; it’s to fund the cost of filmmaking and camera operations. That’s over a year as well,” he justifies.

Recently, Muirhead constructed his first preamplifier using online instructions.  “I’m not a natural techie,” he protests as he pulls out the fragile electronic device. “The idea was to build an internal amp to help the sound from camera to microphone” – bringing his production of the project one step closer to becoming open source.

Liberation from consumer restraints may be the lifestyle Muirhead wants, and there’s something strangely familiar about that utopian thought. “I’m no hippy!” he says, disputably. Muirhead might be cleaner-cut than most bohemians, but his co-designed open source undies speak otherwise.

You can follow Sam Muirhead’s progress at www.yearofopensource.net