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Muttering hat, murmuring tree at MoMA 'Talk' show

Objects don't just sit there being useful anymore. As a new MoMA exhibit highlights, they talk to us in myriad ways--and get us talking to each other and the world.

The Poor Clare Sisters say the Prayer Companion has "been valuable in keeping [our] prayers pertinent." Interaction Research Studio, Goldsmiths University of London, U.K.

If the nine Poor Clare Sisters living in an insular York, England, monastery ever feel cut off from the outside world, they need only turn to their Prayer Companion.

Kate Hartman's "Muttering Hat" makes mental noise physical with "muttering balls" that can be placed on one's ears, shared with others, or left dangling to speak into the world. So what's that wearer thinking? Kate Hartman

The photopolymer resin dot-matrix display sits on a table in a frequently trafficked monastery hallway subtly scrolling a news ticker. This way, the sisters--who have only limited access to newspapers, phones, and computers--can not only keep up with current events, but stay alert to the issues and people they wish to pray for.

In addition to displaying the news, "Goldie," as the nuns call the Prayer Companion, broadcasts the thoughts and feelings of anonymous strangers whose blog entries are aggregated by the Web site We Feel Fine.

While design these days considers utility and aesthetics, increasingly, as Goldie demonstrates, objects are also designed to communicate with people or help them communicate with one another, nature, the city, and more.

A new exhibit at MoMA in New York, "Talk to Me: Design and the Communication between People and Objects," explores that complex conversation through almost 200 projects that include Web sites, video games, interfaces, robots, and wearable technology. Some of the displays are conceptual, while others, like Goldie, are already in use.

It's an eclectic array of projects, from suits that let children experience the world from the perspective of an ant or giraffe to little robots that roam the museum asking visitors for help and an interface that enables a paralyzed graffiti artist to tag buildings with his eyes using a remote-control laser.

For more on MoMA's exploration of the human-object dialogue, see our gallery.