Accents · America · Flat Things

Can the American be trusted?

I found a striking bit of cultural conditioning in my head today.

I watched Apple’s introductory video about iOS 7. That’s this one:

If you haven’t seen it already, and have some minutes to spare, watch it now.

The first half is narrated by Jony Ive, Apple’s (former) top hardware designer and (now) chief Designer of Everything.

The second half features Craig Federighi, their top software bod.

I’d be interested to know how you felt while watching the two halves of the video.

I found that for the first half, I was thinking “yes, this is really good work” and agreeing with everything I was told. But as soon as the switchover happened, I felt I was being sold. It wasn’t that I disbelieved it, so much as that I wasn’t able to listen to it: as soon as the words entered my head, my brain captured them and set them aside as marketing guff.

Ive, narrating the first half, is British. His accent is hard to place—I gather he comes from London but spent time in Newcastle—but it’s remarkably unaffected by working for an American company. He speaks slowly and, to me, sounds familiar and quite earnest.

Federighi, in the second half, is American, but I don’t have a good enough ear for American accents to know where from (and Wikipedia doesn’t say). I know nothing about him. But his accent is enough, for me as a British listener, to make me instinctively tune out whatever it is he has to say. I guess I’ve hardly ever heard that accent except in situations where it lacks credibility, and I’ve subconsciously learned from that.

I found this a bit shocking. It’s no surprise that we judge people based on how familiar their accent is, and anyone speaking after Ive (who has a voice good enough to narrate children’s TV) is going to have a hard time. But it was quite a thing, to have that switch in my head made so clear.

[Note: some similar cultural brainwarp is probably going on my earlier piece about Helvetica]

2 thoughts on “Can the American be trusted?

  1. As a quick follow-up — a straw-poll of a few of my (British) friends showed they generally preferred Federighi to Ive, because he was more animated and direct and seemed less as if he was trying to promote his own agenda.
    Also, on reflection, I have no problem associating a sense of trust with other American speakers. For example, Tim Cook (Apple’s CEO) sounds quite dependable to me. I think Federighi must just have a specific accent that has appeared in a lot of adverts, or something.

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