Sixty secondary school students attended a forum organised by the student leadership group Hong Kong Union for Young Leaders (HKUYL) to discuss the effect modern communication technology is having on young people. Topics that were discussed included technology's impact on human relationships; how to avoid becoming addicted to computer games; Hong Kong's 'language cocktail'; and the taboo of using foul language. At the forum held at City University, one of the speakers, Professor Joseph Chan Man of the School of Journalism and Communication at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said advanced technology could not change the fact that communication on a human level was still the most important thing. Professor Chan was responding to a student who said that through the Internet and ICQ, numerous but shallow friendships were possible. A quick poll of the partici pants showed that more than 70 per cent had more than 100 ICQ friends. Professor Chan said a new type of friendship had emerged in cyberspace where people shared their deepest thoughts and feelings with people they only knew by an alias. Today, friendships spread over a wide area were possible and they were more temporary and subject to change. But he said the traditional saying - 'You will regret nothing in life as long as you have a true friend' - still held true. He encouraged young people to make the most of the Internet to develop honest and intimate friendships with a selected few, rather than interact with hordes of people as a way to evade real communication. Another speaker, Paul Yang, artistic director of the Hong Kong Repertory Theatre, joked that he was not well qualified to take part in the discussions because he did not have a mobile phone or use ICQ and preferred reading a real newspaper rather than its on-line version. He disapproved of the practice of making up identities on ICQ as it cultivated mistrust. Mr Yang said: 'Not only is it bad to tell lies, not trusting people is worse. Therefore, you'd better spend less time on ICQ. 'You should connect more with people, read more, and write more, especially love letters.' Mr Yang said he used to distil words of love for his girlfriend every night on to a pretty piece of paper. 'It was an unimaginably romantic feeling,' he said. As for Hong Kong's use of a 'language cocktail', a mixture of Cantonese, English and Putonghua, Mr Yang said, though lively and expressive, it created a barrier which made it difficult for other Chinese communities in the world to understand local newspapers, films and people. Professor Chan said the lan guage cocktail reflected the fact that Hong Kong people were weak in all three languages. It was a bad practice that further eroded language standards, he said. Professor Chan said Mr Yang could add spice to his conversations by switching between languages only because of his mastery of all three. Professor Chan said if students wanted to flavour their conversations with Cantonese slang and English and Putonghua buzzwords, they should make sure they can also express themselves using only one language when necessary. Mr Yang said for students, occasional swearing for effect among their peers was acceptable and could be 'cool'. He had already demonstrated this through his use of 'God damn!' in his speech. 'Certainly you can't use it in front of parents and teachers,' he said. Jeffrey Kung Tsz-chun, 17, a sixth former at Queen's College, said Professor Chan's words helped him develop the right attitude towards the Internet and ICQ. 'I think it's true that communication is at the centre of human relationships. It isn't the methods we use, but our sincerity with others that matters,' he said.