A search for organizing principles underlying molecular patterning at the cell surface and its regulation over different scales is necessary. This is important for understanding how the cell builds membrane bound organelles that emanate from it and for how the cell interacts with its physical and chemical milieu. This requires a broad framework to rationalize the mass of accumulated data about the spatial localization and dynamics of its constituents, and their physical and chemical environment. Lateral heterogeneities in the organization of membrane components of a living cell appear to be a hallmark of how a cell addresses sorting and signaling functions. Here we explore two classes of mechanisms of segregation of membrane components in the plasma membrane. We suggest that viewing the membrane as a passive, thermally equilibrated system is unlikely to provide an adequate framework to understand the mechanisms of membrane component segregation in vivo. Instead the surface of living cells behaves as an active membrane composite.