Even though “The Fun They Had” takes place in a futuristic world where computerized technology is the basis of education and society, Asimov’s story also expresses the importance of the preservation of the past. The “very old book” that the children find is not simply a book, but a valuable historical document or archival object; the book is both a primary source and record of times gone by. Through the children’s fascination with the old book that Tommy finds in his attic—plus the fact that the book is still intact hundreds of years after the switch to digital books—the author argues that traditional paper-bound books are powerful because of the way they incite curiosity and preserve former times. Asimov asserts that the preservation of the past is an important key to knowledge and curiosity, suggesting that learning about history also enhances understanding of the present.
The story centers around the idea of preservation; the ancient book contains some sort of story or information about old-fashioned schools (present-day schools for the reader), while the book’s form—a traditional book with paper pages and inked words—preserves a slice of history in a time where books have all gone digital. Tommy and Margie’s description of the book reflects its age and how different it is from their computerized book. The book is a remnant of the past with its “yellow and crinkly” pages with “words that stood still instead of moving the way they were supposed to—on a screen.” The children cannot comprehend why the words within a print book are stationary. Perhaps, Asimov is asserting the durable quality of print to preserve not only the words on the page, but also the stories and lessons from the past. It’s also fitting that Tommy finds the book in his attic. The attic is a space of preservation—where Tommy’s family has stored relics of the past so that those objects can be dusted off and revisited again someday.
Even though the children claim to find the book strange, they also find it incredibly intriguing and valuable, pointing to the idea that the preservation of the past and the printed word both have a unique ability to incite curiosity. The children are enthralled by the book, and although they find past education “funny,” they want to continue to read and learn about the past. When Margie’s mom tells her that it is time for school, Margie responds “not yet” with haste and asks Tommy if she can continue reading the book after school. Margie’s curiosity grows as she continues to think about the book and the history of education, leading her to daydream and even be distracted from her math lesson. Because of the contents of the book, Margie’s now longs for the schools of the past where children learn and play together: “she was thinking about the old schools [...] all the kids from the whole neighborhood came, laughing and shouting in the schoolyard, sitting together in the schoolroom, going home together at the end of the day.” Meanwhile, the mechanical teacher drones on about fractions, unaware that Margie’s attention has been captivated by something else. Margie’s daydream, evoked by the book and history, stands in direct contrast to the computer’s stale math lesson that fails to engage Margie, spark her imagination, or encourage her to think critically. Thus, the book’s evocation of the past speaks to the power of the preservation of history and the printed word to lead to wonder, curiosity, and a longing for times gone by.
Although the book is the most notable historical document in the story, oral tales and stories passed on by family members from generation to generation also play a role in preserving the past. The book belongs to Tommy’s family and has likely been passed on from one generation to another for centuries. Through this handoff, the story implies that family is important for preserving the past, as Tommy wouldn’t have had access to the “very old book” without many generations before him preserving a piece of history for him later discover. Orality also plays a role in “The Fun They Had,” as Margie’s family has passed down verbal stories of the past: “Margie’s grandfather once said that when he was a little boy, his grandfather told him that there was a time when all stories were printed on paper.” With this, Asimov asserts that family plays a special role in passing down stories in order to preserve the past and nurture awareness and imagination.
Asimov’s story itself preserves the past, enfolding into its pages the spirit of the 1950s. The story encapsulates the burgeoning technological developments of the time and the growing awareness of a possible future that is dominated by technology—a future that could replace the printed word and the importance of preserving the past, history, and the stories that humankind tells. Although the computer technology in the story is outdated from the computers that contemporary readers are familiar with, “The Fun They Had” is a warning that as the future increasingly relies on technological progress and becomes more digitized, it is extremely important to preserve the past to cultivate imagination and curiosity and to continue to learn from history.
Books and Preservation of the Past ThemeTracker
Books and Preservation of the Past Quotes in The Fun They Had
Margie even wrote it that night in her diary. On the page headed May 17, 2155, she wrote, “Today Tommy found a real book!”
It was a very old book. Margie’s grandfather once said that when he was a little boy his grandfather told him there was a time all stories were printed on paper.
They turned the pages, which were yellow and crinkly, and it was awfully funny to read words that stood still instead of moving the way they were supposed to—on a screen, you know. And then, when they turned back to the page before, it had the same words on it that it had had when they read it the first time.
“Gee,” said Tommy, “what a waste. When you’re through with the book, you just throw it away, I guess. Our television screen must have had a million books on it, and it’s good for plenty more. I wouldn’t throw it away.”
Tommy looked at her with very superior eye. “Because it’s not our kind of school, stupid. This is the old kind of school that they had hundreds and hundreds of years ago.” He added loftily, pronouncing the word carefully, “Centuries ago.”
She was thinking about the old schools they had when her grandfather’s grandfather was a little boy. All the kids from the whole neighborhood came, laughing and shouting in the schoolyard, sitting together in the schoolroom, going home together at the end of the day. They learned the same things so they could help one another on the homework and talk about it […] Margie was thinking about how the kids must have loved it in the old days. She was thinking about the fun they had.