Washington - U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has been put on "administrative leave" after admitting to an addiction to emoticons earlier in the week.
White House Spokesman Scott McClellan would not comment on how long Sec. Rumsfeld might be away, but did say that they were "looking forward to having him back at his post very soon." The statement read by McClellan indicated that "Sec. Rumsfeld has addressed the problem and is seeking help. This in no way is a reflection on the Secretary as a man, or points to any performance problems in his job as a national leader. This issue is of a personal nature and the White House appreciates respect given to Sec. Rumsfeld as it relates to privacy in this area."
Anonymous acquaintances of the Defense Secretary commented on this report by saying: "A bunch of us knew about his issues before now. We'd all get forwards from Don with things like I know you'll really this (smiley face). I laugh so hard I cried (emoticon with tears).' It was pretty creepy, you know, coming from a person of such high regard. I felt compelled to not only respond, but use way more emoticons than I would normally put in any regular reply."
The history of the emoticon is relatively short, but the explosion in choices and popularity is undeniable. Initially, a smiley face indicated by a colon and a closed parenthesis was used to convey a light tone in an otherwise undistinguishable connotation of a particular sentence. That led to the frowny face, typically reserved for playful jabs, shortly followed by the winky face, which all but replaced the smiley face as a general tool for email levity.
"In the last two or three years we have seen the emoticon choices explode," says Dr. Theodore Salidtong, UC Berkeley professor of electronic media studies. "From playful devil faces to mock applause smiley faces, there is seemingly an emoticon for every situation. Because of their proliferation and easy application in different situations it is very easy to see how someone, even of Sec. Rumsfeld's stature, could get carried away."
Treatment for this addiction takes on several stages. Most experts agree that a full recovery is possible, but that it could take up to six weeks. In that time Sec. Rumsfeld will most likely progress in small steps. Dr. Salidtong suggests that the attending therapist will most likely encourage the gradual reduction in simple email annoyances such as the overuse of exclamation marks, and encourage him to completely cut out multiple question marks, the kind that indicate the level of confusion from the sender.
By overcoming small obstacles one at a time, most people with this addiction are able to cut out their prolific use of emoticons.
"Donald Rumsfeld may come out a changed man," says Dr. Salidtong "But only time will tell. He's going to have to make sure he cuts all ties with programs such as Yahoo, or MSN Messenger subscribing only to utilitarian email vehicles such as Microsoft Outlook."