Back in 2003, I was looking for a new moniker that would conjure up an emerging type of cut-above masculinity. A contrast with fashion-focused, well-groomed metrosexuals. Someone floated the German prefix über, and — presto — we debuted übersexuals in my book “The Future of Men.”
It turned out that the sense of superiority evoked by über reflected the bullish spirit of the time. In short order, those quaint dots over the u became optional extras, and uber spread all over the culture. Uberstylish, ubergeeky, uberexcited, ubercool and many other mashups became ubertrendy until — you guessed it — a ride-sharing app grabbed it and drove off with it.
Uber, the ride-share service, is now everywhere — so uber is pretty much over as a preferred prefix. In fact, in a twist of irony, “over” (the English equivalent of “über”) has now taken over. It’s become the go-to upfront add-on of our time, reflecting a shift in the mood of the age. While “uber-” sparkles with enthusiasm and a sense of “more, please,” “over-” flags up discomfort and communicates “enough already.”
For example, growing numbers of the world’s top destinations, such as Paris, Florence, Dubrovnik and Bali are struggling to deal with overtourism. A shorthand for too many visitors crowding into the same place at the same time, ruining the experience of the place for other tourists and for locals.
The blurring of boundaries between public and private has given rise to oversharing — revealing too much personal information on social media or even on loud private phone calls in public places.
Parents’ desire to help, support and protect their kids (and manage their own anxiety) has led to the overinvolvement of helicopter parents who are constantly hovering around and getting ready to take over. They have no doubt drummed into their kids how important it is to hydrate properly, but also to avoid overdoing those sips because overhydration, aka water intoxication, can be fatal.
With our ever-present, always-on hyperconnected technology, there’s rarely a risk of boredom as we wait in line, transit from one place to another or find ourselves feeling less than buzzed. There’s always something attention-grabbing to read or watch or listen to, each one upping the ante (“you won’t believe what she did next!!”), so the risk now is not boredom but overstimulation and information overload — more sensory input than the brain can handle.
This is not to say that that over has come into everyday English from left field, as über did. You can find over-happy in Shakespeare’s Hamlet and over in plenty of expressions through the centuries (which I don’t intend to list here). There’s no need to over-egg the pudding, as the Brits say.
The point is that the way over is used now expresses a pervasive sense of too much, a fire hose of information and massive numbers that are hard to take in and are constantly growing: 1.4 billion tourist trips in 2018; 1.59 billion daily active users on Facebook; 400 hours of content uploaded to YouTube every minute; thousands of hours of box sets available on streaming video services and the average office worker receiving about 121 emails a day. (That’s a lot but only a fraction of what I receive on a quiet day.)
In this age of overabundance, it’s easy to succumb to a sense of overwhelm and either just binge on it all, or (much harder) turn it all off and go cold turkey. Whether it’s food, drink, media content, information or experiences, figuring out how much is just enough, and sticking to it, is an essential metaskill that will never be in oversupply.