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February 15, 2014

Business Meets Personal: Next Pittsburgh As Mesh City

The Old School was pretty clear: business was business, and personal was personal. An interesting sociopolitical question was raised by this week's focus on Lyft-Uber and The Sharing Economy. Used to be (U2B) you were a Consumer or a Producer; now you're a Consumer and a Producer. Sometimes, mixing previously unmixable categories is too hard to think about, it's disturbing and even revolting. Maybe we're prosumers (thanks to C.Briem !)

The lines between business and personal seem to be collapsing, and with any change there's winners, losers, angst and noise.

Your car, which used to be a private vehicle, is now sometimes also a kinda-taxi (except it's not, wink-wink) but you do carry passengers for hire. A few quibbling points:

  • Some people have CDLs (commercial drivers licenses), some don't
  • there are difference insurance and inspection requirements for commercial vehicles
  • there are different parking and zoning implications for personal vehicles
  • in some cities, commercial vehicles can only use certain roadways
  • commercial drivers face drug testing

You build a wonderful home theater in your basement. Big, big screen. Stadium seats for fifteen, tremendous sound system, serving table for food. You've had friends over for ballgames and movies for years. Now, you're having paying guests over for Netflix and Steelers games. You're doing the same thing as you used to do, but you're charging for it. Funny thing is, all the licenses for your content are strictly for not-for-revenue personal, non-commercial use. Fughedaboutit.

Zoning. In an attempt to structure our cities and counties in accordance with the public desire, we enact zoning laws that designate what kinds of development are permitted. Some places are zoned for personal residences, some places are zoned for business, some places are zoned joint use.

Hotels. I love hotels, I get the NYTimes and they've got a pool. But now there's AirBnB and my neighbor has transients traipsing in and out because he's sharing his guest bedroom. We're zoned for residential, but wow: brave new world.

Drones. You can go out and buy some really cool drones and quadricopters, and you can outfit them with some really cool cameras. You can fly them in a lot of places (but not around DC). The rules say you can only do this as a personal activity, you cannot do it for commercial use; you can't do it for compensation. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

Taxes: Personal purchases pays sales tax; commercial use doesn't. That's not trivial; start messing with personal and commercial and the entire tax structure is in play. (Ask Al Capone about taxes) Note how states are now collecting Amazon taxes and cities are focusing on AirBnB scofflaws.

Finance: Personal banking, Business banking: very different things.

How did we come to have such clear schisms between personal use and business use? What are the truly essential safeguards that we need to convey into the future, to ensure public safety from malefactors? How much of the commercial legislation is defending incumbents and restricting competition and innovation, and how much is protecting the public from blackguards and the extremes of capitalism?

What are the implications of tearing down those (anachronistic) distinctions? Because the Mesh isn't going to wait for the old rules to change, it's going to unleash creative destruction and swamp the unprepared.

Locally, it seems like Pittsburgh is going to be a Mesh City, which could be #FunToWatch, what with winners and losers n'at.

One could assert that Pittsburgh is uniquely positioned for the business-personal amiguity, blessed with the mullet: business in the front, party in the back. In the end, everything comes full circle to Yinzers.

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