I recently watched some documentaries about the history of math and science. One of the narrators commented that many great thinkers liked to take long walks to help them think. In this one respect I think that the great visionaries of the past had an advantage on those of us in the modern era: they had fewer distractions.
Modern life is full of distractions. We have become so good at reducing the boredom and drudgery of life, that we find something interesting or at least occupying at all times. All these fun distractions cause the saturation of the senses which in turn leads to reduction in analysis and deep thought. Our short attention spans mean that we have no time to think deep thoughts and no time to analyse our problems.
Real insights into complex problems need deep thought and consideration. Even with a daily dose of such deep thought, it took many of the thinkers of the past their whole lives to make meaningful contributions. In the modern age of distractions it will take strong will to avoid these tempting distractions in addition to a strong analytical mind to make significant progress.
The television has been called the "idiot box" as people first realized its mind numbing properties. When the computer revolution came, some claimed that this form of "lean forward" interactive was the antithesis of the "lean back" consumerism of the TV. However, I think that the new and more engaging distractions provided by computers make it equally dangerous. At best the computer can be labelled as the "underachievers box".