Every single day, the news overflows with doom and gloom: politics is a disaster, people are at war, the gap between the rich and the poor is higher than ever, and everything is just generally awful. It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the world is going to hell in a handbasket. And yet reality is very different: fewer people live in poverty than ever before, more and more people have the ability to benefit from the modern world's conveniences, and many seemingly-intractable problems are being solved.
Modern life is quietly the best it's ever been for many people, and yet there is in fact something we're losing: breadth of knowledge and ability.
History is full of praise for the "Renaissance men," who painted, wrote poetry, read all the books, studied the sciences and had tremendous impact on their societies, but these men (and similarly gifted women who, for many complex and often unjust reasons, are not as well-remembered in history) demonstrate just one aspect of the generalist knowledge that abounded in historical society: that of the comfortably well-off.
Lots of people had a broad set of skills, though: societies were smaller, and while towns had the butcher, the cobbler and the tailor, each person was capable of a wide range of tasks and possessed a surprising variety of knowledge. Most importantly, as a percentage of the sum of skills and knowledge that existed at the time, folks generally knew quite a bit, even if they only knew the basics.
How things have changed!