I don't know how you can have a passion for something (or create art in a specific medium) without wanting to search out those that succeeded before you. Not necessarily to emulate, but to understand the "vocabulary" of the medium. It doesn't mean you have to like their work, but awareness is important. No one lives in a vacuum, and no one creates in one. When I'm confronted by an "artist" who says it's not important to know the history of photography, I can't help but question their commitment.

As for digital, I think it's a medium in it's infancy. It needs time to find it's place in the pantheon of the arts. Right now, I see digital as more technology driven, rather than aesthetically driven (a quick visit to any digital site will show more discussions about the hardware than the image making possibilities). I do know many people doing excellent digital work, however (with few exceptions), they all started with film/darkroom (and embraced the history, too)....