The story begins with Margie's diary entry on May 17, 2155: "Today Tommy found a real book!"
Margie knows the book is very old because her grandfather has told her stories of his grandfather's paper books. Tommy and Margie turn the book's old, yellow pages. They find the book strange and amusing because the words stay the same, rather than move and change like they usually do on a screen. Tommy remarks that it seems like a waste: his screens carry a million books, and you never need to throw them away. Margie agrees, although she is only eleven years old and has seen fewer books than Tommy, who is thirteen.
Tommy tells Margie that he found the book in his attic and that the book is about school. Margie is unimpressed by the subject matter: she hates school. Recently, her mechanical teacher was giving her test after test in geography. Her results just kept getting worse, until her mother sent for the County Inspector.
The Inspector, a round little man with a box of tools, gave Margie an apple and fixed the teacher. When he was done, he told Margie's mother, Mrs. Jones, that the geography section was dialed up a little too quick, and he had slowed it down to the appropriate level. Margie was progressing just fine. Margie, however, was disappointed: she was hoping they would take the teacher away altogether.
Back with Tommie and the old book, she asks him why anyone would write about school. Tommy tells her with an air of condescension that back then, school was different. Centuries ago, he goes on, real men and women taught in schools. Margie can't understand how men and women could be teachers. She comes up with lots of objections: a man wouldn't be smart enough, a man could never know as much as a mechanical teacher, and besides, she wouldn't want a strange man teaching her in her home.
Tommie refutes each objection. He tells Margie that centuries ago, children went to school in a separate schoolhouse, and they all learned the same thing as other children of the same age. They begin reading the funny book.
Margie and Tommy are interrupted by Mrs. Jones telling Margie it is time for school. Tommy leaves and Margie goes into the schoolroom, which is right next to her bedroom. It is on and waiting for her, just like every day other than Saturdays and Sundays. The teacher tells her about today's arithmetic lesson, and asks her to drop her homework in the appropriate slot. Margie does so while daydreaming about the old schools, where children played together every day. The mechanical teacher flashes fractions on the screen as Margie thinks about how much fun children in the old days must have had.
In "The Fun They Had," the paper book that Tommy discovers in his attic functions as a foil for Margie to critique her own reality. Tommy tells us the book is about school, but no more information is provided: the details of the book's content are notably absent from the text. Instead, the narrator emphasizes the impact of the book on Margie. She is captivated by the images of children learning and playing together in a common schoolhouse building, and by the idea of human teachers giving standardized lessons. Margie longs for the life depicted in the pages of the book. It is this longing that creates the irony of the story: Asimov's readers, and readers today, are living in the reality that Margie imagines. We know that children do not see it as the utopia of Margie's dreams.
Writing in 1951, Asimov lived in a world without e-books, Kindle, or audiobooks. The "yellow and crinkly" pages of an old paperback would have been the only book option available to him. Still, he imagined technological advances that have come to pass today. In 2020, what Margie calls "telebooks" are a feature of everyday life. Education is increasingly infiltrated by technology. And, even more recently, as the United States settles into an uneasy quarantine due to the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers around the country ask students to complete online assignments, hold classes on a screen, and grade papers electronically. With paper books still in print, today's world is not yet Margie's, but it exists on the precipice.
Yet for all the technological changes that Asimov depicts in "The Fun They Had," social dynamics do not seem to change much. Margie and Tommy, for example, have a classic relationship between an older and younger child. Tommy speaks knowingly and has a "superior" look in his eye as he explains the facts of reality to Margie, and "scream[s] with laughter" when she reveals her ignorance. This know-it-all dynamic, apparently, lasts centuries.
In addition, Margie's mother is a strong authority figure in this text. Margie's reaction to learning about the old methods of educating students is tempered by the guidance she has received from her mother: about the importance of personalizing a student's education, for example, or the necessity of keeping school hours the same each week. Asimov seems to suggest the permanence of the hierarchy of the family unit, from his era all the way through 2155.
Even the arrival of the County Inspector tells us something about sociopolitical permanency. It appears that in 2155, regions are still organized into counties with the requisite bureaucracies to go with them.
In an interview published in 1987 in the journal Science Fiction Studies, Asimov points out that the scientific and technological changes in his famous Foundation series are not accompanied by any change in human nature. Perhaps a common thread throughout Asimov's work, the same seems to hold true for "The Fun They Had." Changes in society are isolated to the realm of technology, leaving an eleven-year-old child's social world very similar to that of a child at the time of Asimov's writing.