However, for people of my generation (I'm 40) or older, the digital world was a breakthrough in their lives, which popped up first in the mid 80s (with the arrival of CDs). Prior to that, we all lived in an analogic world. After that, digitization invaded our lives, and not all was a rose dream.
Possibly it is still too early to make any objective balance of the consequences of the digital world: after all, it's been working for less than 30 years, which is by no means a significant time from an historicist point of view. But regardless, it is obvious for all of us that it changed upside down the landscape of communications in the world, to the point that its importance is, in my opinion, severely underrated by most people.
Let me illustrate some of the points for discussion (as I would be, as always, very happy to read the comments from others):
Back in the 70s to early 80s, if you liked music, the usual way to learn about favourite bands or artists was to discover them in the radio or by friends; if you were lucky, maybe some of them could have the album of interest, and you could listen to it in full before buying. Yet in many cases, you heard a good song in the radio that got your attention, and then you went to buy the full album somehow blindly: the singles were (in the good cases) a good sample to atract you, or (in the bad cases) a hook to make you buy a bad album. Maybe because of this very fact (the lack of knowledge), when you purchased a vinyl, there was a full ritual: you opened it back at home, you payed attention to the artwork, the liner notes, even the quality of the vinyl itself; then you used your beloved turntable (prior a careful cleaning of the vinyl) to listen to the music. In most cases, it was an attentive process, where you used your full attention to discover an album for the very first time. It took time and effort. I still remember when I purchased "Steve McQueen", from Prefab Sprout, which was my first LP ever.
At that time, listening to almost unknown bands was somehow like a cult; you enjoyed the difference and it needed looking actively after such kinds of music, since that was not easy to find or listen. Further: when you liked a lot some particular artist (even a big one as, say, Prince), it happened often that there was nobody in your environment enjoying his music. So you couldn't share your opinions or your love for his music with anybody: it as a lonely pleasure, maybe shared with a distant show driver on FM radios for minorities.
If we compare that with the current situation, it's needless to say that it all changed; in some aspects, it is much better now; in some other aspects, it is much worse now.
To avoid describing the evolution, I wil jump directly to 2008.
Now, pretty much nobody is discovering new music in radio. People are used to download songs or albums from P2P sites, and the idea of "paying to get music" is something weird for many of them. At those sites, there are often huge archives containing the full discography in mp3 of different artists. And it takes just a few minutes/hours to get them. Once these discographies are loaded onto iPods & the like, people may listen to a few albums (in the best cases) and probably not to all songs from those albums.
There are many forums devoted to all kinds of musics and bands and artists; there are extensive discussions in them on the very minor details of every band's career. It is very easy to get in touch with other people enjoying the same kind of music you like. And the music is not restricted to sets released by record labels: there are many live shows around, from the bands enabled to actually play music (which are many, even in this age of plastic dolls).
Yet I have the feeling that, maybe, such overwhelming amount of information (I'm dealing with music here, but the same happens with other kinds of information) serves sometimes -migh be often?- to distract attention from the people, who get confused and think, sometimes, that having 80 Go of music loaded onto your iPod equals to knowing a lot about music: it does not.
I could use many other similar examples, but I hope my point is clear:
The digital world offers everything. Everything.
But the responsability to choose remains in the brain of everyone: such a vast body of information has no purpose whatsoever without knowledge to discern what is of interest to you. Terabytes & terabytes of information have zero utility without criteria to select and make use of them.
Hence I think it is up to everybody to realize about this, and to react accordingly: The digital world, and internet as the paramount definition of digital, offer unrestricted possibilities, but that can allow us to get good information, or to listen to awesome music, or to read stunning books; and also to get lost within a full mess of links, files, contradictory opinions and confusion. And the young people, in particular, should spend a while to reflect on the possibilities and consequences of the time they spend enjoying (or getting lost) within the digital universe.