I think the confusion come from the statements about 8-bit controllers becoming old news. It's become so cheap and easy to manufacture fast 16 and 32 bit cores now, its a wonder why we are still using little 8 bit AVR and PICs.
The ARM chip
on the evalbot part of the recent TI snafu is 16 bit, 80Mhz with tons of IO, way more timers and embedded communications drivers, and is only $2-$3 more then an Atmega328. SO at this point, why start learning 8 bit AVR?
There are 32bit AVR chips that look good on paper, I just haven't tried them.