The title for this blog is a direct reference to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s long-standing radio event, “The National Research Council Official Time Signal,” at once the longest-running and shortest radio program in the world. For those unfamiliar with the program, it runs every weekday on the CBC, with the title above spoken, followed—or at least it used to be followed—by the words, “The beginning of the long dash, following ten seconds of silence, indicates exactly ten o’clock [Pacific] standard time.” (The particular ‘standard’ depends upon which of the six time zones spread across Canada you happen to be living in.) This pronouncement was then followed by a series of short sonic beeps, followed by ten seconds of silence, then the precise beginning of the demarcating “long dash.”
Aside from its practical timekeeping benefits, the program was originally conceived of as a kind of ‘ringing of the church bell’ across the national village. It was to coordinate us all in our various purposes, a sort of communal synchronizing of our watches. The first broadcast was in 1939, then sourced via the Dominion Observatory, built in 1902 near the Rideau Canal in Ottawa. In 1970, official timekeeping responsibilities were transferred to the National Research Council of Canada.
As late as 1974, the program ran as long as 50 seconds overall. A few years ago, the CBC changed the script to read, “The beginning of the long dash, following six seconds of silence…” Not long after this revision, the words were reduced to just, “The beginning of the long dash indicates exactly…” Thus the program continues today, less than fifteen seconds in length, with no beeps, no gap of silence, no (in radio parlance) ‘sound hole.’
It’s all quite understandable. In today’s ‘live’ media environment, ten seconds of silence is unthinkable. So too it seems is six seconds. We simply don’t have time for ten seconds of silence anymore, not even six. And yet its loss, as a kind of encapsulated heraldic version of our accelerated times, is worth thinking about. So think about it: the media, and by implication us—we don’t have time for ten seconds of silence anymore.
Silence, in the Buddhist tradition, is a goal unto itself, as in the many forms of silent meditation. Vows of silence—as in never speaking—are relatively common among Eastern spiritual leaders, some vows lasting for years on end. Prolonged silence, at least once in a while, is an experience many of us could benefit from. Silence slows you down, grounds you, makes you more aware of who you are and precisely where you are, here and now, free of the clutter of noise, media-induced or otherwise.
Stillness, quiet, silence, it’s a commodity many of us lack in our lives. Yes, sight, smell, feeling, all those senses are important and can be life-affirming too, but sound, far more than we tend to think, conditions our lives, for better or worse. And silence, at least the kind of unplugged, near-silence which allows you to hear an insect buzz across the yard, is something we should all be seeking and enjoying more of. Let’s think about it, for at least ten seconds, in silence.