So I was wondering: are there any general differences in the nature of "what every mathematician should know" over the last 50-60 years? I'm not just talking of small changes where new results are added on to old ones, but fundamental shifts in the nature of the knowledge and skills that people are expected to acquire during or before graduate school.

To give an example (which others may disagree with), one secular (here, secular means "trend over time") change seems to be that mathematicians today are expected to feel a lot more comfortable with picking up a new abstraction, or a new abstract formulation of an existing idea, even if the process of abstraction lies outside that person's domain of expertise. For example, even somebody who knows little of category theory would not be expected to bolt if confronted with an interpretation of a subject in his/her field in terms of some new categories, replete with objects, morphisms, functors, and natural transformations. Similarly, people would not blink much at a new algebraic structure that behaves like groups or rings but is a little different.

My sense would be that the expectations and abilities in this regard have improved over the last 50-60 years, partly because of the development of "abstract nonsense" subjects including category theory, first-order logic, model theory, universal algebra etc., and partly because of the increasing level of abstraction and the need for connecting frameworks and ideas even in the rest of mathematics. I don't really know much about how mathematics was taught thirty years ago, but I surmised the above by comparing highly accomplished professional mathematicians who probably went to graduate school thirty years ago against today's graduate students.

Some other guesses:

- Today, people are expected to have a lot more of a quick idea of a larger number of subjects, and less of an in-depth understanding of "Big Proofs" in areas outside their subdomain of expertise. Basically, the Great Books or Great Proofs approach to learning may be declining. The rapid increase in availability of books, journals, and information via the Internet (along with the existence of tools such as Math Overflow) may be making it more profitable to know a bit of everything rather than master big theorems outside one's area of specialization.
- Also, probably a thorough grasp of multiple languages may be becoming less necessary, particularly for people who are using English as their primary research language. Two reasons: first, a lot of materials earlier available only in non-English languages are now available as English translations, and second, translation tools are much more widely available and easy-to-use, reducing the gains from mastery of multiple languages.

These are all just conjectures. Contradictory information and ideas about other possible secular trends would be much appreciated.

NOTE: This might be too soft for Math Overflow! Moderators, please feel free to close it if so.